Saturday, April 29, 2006

Drugs and Nukes

Okay, an op-ed calling for a rational analysis of the costs and benefits of drug prohibition! Mary Anastasia O'Grady, in Friday's Wall Street Journal, notes that "Drugs Beget Thugs in the Americas." For those with a subscription, you can click here.

And it seems that Mexico is coming to its senses on the issue, too: today's New York Times reports that "Mexico Passes Law Making Possession of Some Drugs Legal."

An unnamed US embassy official, apparently toeing the reflexive US prohibition line, reacted to the news by noting that "any law that would decriminalize dangerous drugs would not be helpful."

But that's exactly the question, isn't it? How should we handle the problem? In all other fields of policy (except for oil and automobiles, but let's hold off on that for now), we instinctively know to ask, first, what is our objective; second, what is the most efficient way of achieving it. Only when it comes to drugs do we conflate ends and means; only with drugs does a policy -- in this case, prohibition -- become the objective itself.

I would think our objective with regard to drugs is to regulate them in such a way as to prevent too-high rates of addiction and other societal costs resulting from individual abuse. Prohibition is certainly one way of achieving that end. But prohibition involves costs: diversion of security, intelligence, military, judicial, border, customs, and prison resources; profits to the enemies of democracy in Latin America and Afghanistan; hostility to the US when our military assists in trying to eradicate crops abroad.

Does anyone know of a study that objectively analyzes the costs and benefits of prohibition and compares those costs and benefits to those of other possible policies? I've never heard of one, which leads me to believe that for some reason our country is in denial or otherwise irrational on the subject. Given the undeniable costs of prohibition and its dubious successes, shouldn't we at least be asking whether there's a better way?

My own unprofessional, anecdotal take on what such a study would show: if we ended prohibition today in favor of regulation, taxation, and treatment for addiction, there would be a mild uptick in drug use. Meanwhile the price of drugs, which is kept artificially high by prohibition, would fall, denying profits to the Afghan warlords who are committed to defeating our efforts there and to the narcotrafficantes who are committed to undermining democracy in Latin America. We would also be able to redeploy all the resources noted above to the war that really matters -- the one against Islamofascism.

You know how we'll know when we're really serious about the war against Islamofascism? When the government announces that we're ending the war on drugs. Because one of these wars is a war of necessity -- by definition, an existential war, a war we cannot lose -- and the other is a war of choice. And a society that fights a war of choice while simultaneously fighting a war of necessity is a society that's betting everything it holds dear on a policy that in the end is... nothing more than a policy.

Some congressional wag once quipped that of course it would be easy to smuggle a nuke into the US... all you'd need to do would be to hide it in a bale of marijuana. He meant this mostly literally, true, but there are figurative implications, too. Because if diverting so many resources from the war against Islamofascism increases the risk that we could lose an American city to a suitcase nuke, then one day we may have to add that lost city to the tally of the costs of our war of choice on drugs.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you quite strongly on this one, Barry. Drug abuse is a public health and safety issue, not merely some puritantical or moral issue. Should we start having doctors write prescriptions for patients just so they can get high and not to treat medical conditions, for example? I think you'd have a hard time getting doctors to agree to that. Those medications are prescription only not just because they're illegal on the street, but because there are serious health risks to using them incorrectly.

And look at meth abuse. People coming down off that high become irrationally violent. They pose a serious risk to the public, as well as to the law enforcement personnel who have to deal with them. We have such a meth problem in Minnesota that psuedephedrine, used to manufacture meth, is now behind the counter. You must provide identification and are entered into a database when you purchase it, and your purchase quantity is limited each month.

I feel safer now that we've done that. I'd feel even safer if all states followed suit and there weren't anyway for the people making the stuff to order it online to bring it in-state.

As for the war in Iraq, I don't feel one bit safer for us having gone in there. If our "war on terrorism" is so costly, perhaps we need to consider whether we are using those dollars wisely. There are other ways to use defense dollars besides invading and "rebuilding" countries. Seems to me such large-scale overt action must be among the most costly strategy we could employ.

I would hope the prosperity of our society can be used for more than just war. That doesn't mean I think we don't need to have a strong counter-terrorism strategy. Just means I think we need to consider our approach and what else we need to do to maintain a strong society.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It goes beyond legal costs, to medical expenses as well. When a junkie that lives on the street with no health insurance OD's, someone scrapes them up, someone offers medical aid, someone picks up the tab - John Q Taxpayer. In Canada, there have been clean needle exchanges since 1989 for the purpose of preventing the spread of diseases, like HIV.

One of the things people haven't really understood about the marijuana laws is that they think we've been moving to legalize it. Decriminalizing it isn't quite the same thing

I actually have an issue with the idea of changing views on marijuana. When I lived in New Westminster, there were people in our building who smoked, and I thought headaches from second-hand cigarette smoke were bad. They're nothing compared to my second-hand weed headaches.

The other thing is that these grow ops are springing up here left, right and sideways. It's a huge huge problem. Want to talk cost? One of the things they've been doing in these houses is pulling out the flooring at entrances and putting in spikes. In our district there's a community that's labelled as one of the hot spots nation-wide for grow-ops, and because my husband's a firefighter, there's been a lot of talk about the problems. There have been calls to fires, don't know it's a grow op, first responders end up skewered on spikes.

Add in those medical, insurance and disability costs the taxpayers are forking over.

And nobody will forget four RCMP officers being gunned down on a grow op raid

Even legalizing the drugs in terms of consumption doesn't eliminate the problems with trafficking and distribution and smuggling. Is jail the best way to deal with a drug user? Perhaps not. But in order to clean up druggies, if that's our goal, there would be costs involved in rehab programs.

Bottom line is, people taking these drugs to the point of being addicts end up on the street most of the time because they can't function, they can't hold a job, then they can't pay their bills, afford a place to live, everything ends up being about the high to make them forget their mounting problems...

And as a result, we pay for the medical, the policing, and we pay through crime. Someone can't hold a job, they can't make money, how do they get enough for their next high? They steal. They become hookers.

It's a vicious cycle. There may well be a better way, but I haven't seen the model I'm ready to vote for just yet.

I still remember in my grade 13 world issues class, someone presenting on the Amerstam solution to prostitution (legalization). Another student piped up and said, "Gee, hope they don't have a problem with murder."

Mindy Tarquini said...

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is "committed to working directly, and through partnerships, to investigate and reduce crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products." (from their website.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are legal in this country, in most places. Even if I remove Firearms from that list, enough money is being made in the illegal trafficking of legal substances available at the corner market, that we have a bureau at the treasury department full of people who need to carry guns in the course of their jobs to enforce the legality of these legal and readily available substances.

Simple words in short sentences might be needed for me to understand how legalizing illegal substances means there will be less need for bureaus of gun-carrying people to enforce their legality.

Barry Eisler said...

I knew if I posted on this I'd never get any work done... ;-)

Peregrine, I agree with most of the drug-related problems you point out. But my question remains: is prohibition a sensible policy for dealing with those problems? To answer that, wouldn't a serious cost/benefit study make sense?

Sandra, fair point on the hassles of secondhand smoke. But I think laws should be targeted at the behavior we seek to regulate. If secondhand smoking is the problem, let's regulate it. Banning marijuana outright seems an overly broad way to attack secondhand smoking -- akin to attacking drunk driving by banning cars (or alcohol). As for the other problems you point out, these are indeed serious. But again, do spiked grow ops (for example) exist in spite of prohibition, or because of it?

Law Dawg, it's a pleasure and honor to see you here. Folks, LD can't give his identity because his current job puts him on the front lines in the war on terror, but he is the real deal and a good man. If he tells you to step away from the danish, you'd best do it...

Anyway, LD, agreed on all points, particularly the health/safety issue. Health and safety is indeed a legitimate governmental concern; the question, I think, as for all the other issues raised in these posts, is how best to address it. As you imply, danish prohibition (what are you trying to get me to do, spew all over my keyboard?) would seem a poor way to me of addressing obesity... for many of the same reasons it is for drugs.

MG, good points on the continuing need for a BATF, even though A,T, and F are all legal. The question, I think, is again one of costs and benefits. Ending prohibition in favor of regulation doesn't end the government's role, but I'll bet it seriously reduces it... along with all the other net benefits I mentioned in my post.

Let me ask this, because it might help clarify what this discussion is really about (this blog is called HOTM, after all...). Does anyone think we shouldn't do a cost/benefit study on prohibition and other possible anti-drug policies?

Anonymous said...

Barry, regarding the cost / benefit study: in theory, I think it's a great idea. In practice, I don't know how helpful it would be, because I think it would be politicized beyond all belief. Who would fund it, and who would do it? How would we know they were impartial and weren't manipulating the results for their own ends? And then, whatever the results, those on the 'losing end' would be squawking that the analysis was flawed.

I further believe that in today's political environment, arriving at any sort of consensus that would allow change to current practice is nigh on impossible. The war on drugs has become mired in the politics of morality, and I just don't see a clear way out of it.

But I'm not cynical ;-)

Mindy Tarquini said...

Law Dawg and Barry - thanks to both for the explanations which were both simple and short enough. And Law Dawg...plain old thank you.

Cost/Benefit study sounds great. How many years would that take? Is legalization and regulation limited to heroine, cocaine, LSD, etc., or will the study also tackle the quagmire that is prescription drugs? Current practice for regulating prescription drugs that have a high street value tends to hog-tie physicians and keep those drugs out of the hands of the people who need them most.

Also, pills are small. A bottle of bourbon is...bigger. Will corner stores only be allowed to sell a user two oxycontin at a time? Will the customer have to register the sale, so he can't go from corner store to corner store building up a supply?

I ask because I can see a highly lucrative resale market to the under 18 crowd with the dealers suffering no more than a little inconvenience as they travel from store to store.

Re: the danish. Somebody shoulda ordered me to step away from that danish 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

"Also one must acknowledge that, while a lot of organized crime is involved, there is little violence that accompanies the illegal smuggling of booze and cigarettes across state lines (mostly to avoid state taxes). There is a world of difference between taxing something so much it is economically viable to smuggle it to making it illegal outright."

Thanks for joining the discussion, Law Dawg Fed. I appreciate the insider's view you bring to the table, and you have made me think through my opinions more carefully.

Although there is little violence accompanying the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco, there is plenty of violence that results from the use of alcohol. Not so with tobacco, of course. And that is what starts teasing out where the line falls for me.

In my 20s, I lived in the Caribbean, and my opinion was much as yours is--that the war on drugs was a waste and creating needless violence without doing much for us. (BTW, my opinions are as someone who hasn't ever experimented with illegal drugs--not even marijuana. My stake in this has nothing to do with any desire to indulge in it myself.)

What's different now is that I'm a homeowner who works in downtown Minneapolis. Meth is a huge problem in my state. The violence from meth isn't just from the fact that it's illegal. It's that meth is exceptionally dangerous to produce, yielding toxic waste, and these labs can and do explode. Meth also leads to extreme violence from its *use.* In addition, it completely destroys the health of its users and our rehab centers are overflowing. They can't even figure out how to help these people, because of what the drug does to them.

The cost/benefit in my mind is easy on that one--no study needed. No way am I ever supporting anyone or any law that would make meth legal. There are enough people in Minneapolis shooting and raping people when they're not on anything. But at least if they not pumped up on meth, they're not generally psychotically enraged, and I have a decent chance of protecting myself when I bump into those types. And around here, it's not an if but a when. They're looking for an easy victim, and that I am not. I *do* have to coexist regularly with such folk by the mere fact that I work downtown.

But someone on meth? My understanding is that people on meth will nail you for existing. So none of my precautions about body language, knowing where people lurk, etc. does a damn bit of good if I happen to end up in the vicinity of one of them.

Where my opinion moderates is when it comes to something like marijuana, where I don't believe violence results directly from its production and use. So yes, Barry, that's where I'd support a cost/benefit study, and where a different approach might be better for society in many ways. But could we please use any savings towards things like health and education, rather than large-scale invasions of other countries that I believe are as ineffective as portions of the drug war? :-)

Won't go through all the various drugs, since I'm not educated enough to say which ones I'd flat out resist decriminalizing. Bottom line for me, though, is what produces the bulk of the damage--the enforcement, or the production/use.

As for food, I don't think it's a fair comparison. If someone wants to clog their arteries and die young, their problem isn't going to take me out with them. Or if they do become violent, all I have to do is toss a Danish their way to distract them while I tip-toe off. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, I just wrote a novel. Sorry 'bout that. Probably should get offline and do some work on my *real* novel this morning. Or maybe we need to regulate Barry's blog as an addictive substance?

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, the only drugs I have any investment in are already legal. With regard to cost/benefit analysis, I would support it in theory, but feel there are deeper issues than economics here. There is the further question of what you're attempting to accomplish and, on a broader level, how far as a citizen you want the government to intervene in your lifestyle choices.

Personally, I believe that a general principle of a society should be that a person must be free to do what they wish, so long as it doesn't impact too severely on other citizens. In reality, of course, we all affect other people with our actions, but the principle remains important to me. The government may not approve of me and my friends getting plastered on alcohol (binge-drinking is an issue here in the UK at the moment), but - put bluntly - it's none of their business. And yes, if I smoke and drink, I affect the wider community, especially later in my life. But 3000 people die in road traffic accidents in the UK every year, without even considering minor injuries. People stuffing their faces with junk food will also take up hospital time later in life. And so on. Many of our actions negatively affect other people, but that isn't enough in itself to prohibit them. I may dislike your lifestyle choices, but you have the right to live your life as you see fit, so long as you're not stabbing me. I don't see why the majority of drug use is all that different. If I want to smoke marijuana (which I occasionally do), I see no moral high ground for anyone to occupy to wag a finger at me. You do your thing; I'll do mine.

But economically, yes, I think a cost/benefit analysis would be a good thing. Perhaps the results would surprise me, but it seems like a no-brainer: I imagine legalisation would result in a massive reduction in crime and decrease in cost.

Sandra Ruttan said...

There was actually a case here where a doctor refused to treat someone because they wouldn't give up smoking. He said when people are on waiting lists looking for doctors, it was a waste of his time to treat someone who wouldn't listen.

Canada's been moving steadily towards to decriminalization of marijuana - honestly, I think it's been put through but we're on our second gov't in a short period of time and who knows what has or hasn't been done anymore? - and yet we still have huge problems with grow ops.

As Mindy pointed out, there's trafficking in legal substances as well.

I don't believe the right thing to do with a junkie is throw them in jail.

But to leave them on the streets, we do end up with a string of associated crime that has to be cleaned up and dealt with, which costs money.

So if we put them into mandatory rehab and clean them up, help them find work, etc. perhaps in the long run they have a better chance of staying clean.

But then we're dictating what people can and can't use and do.

I think a day will come when insurance companies start monitoring diets, weight, etc. and refusing to cover walking time bombs.

If you really want to debate a law that makes no sense, committing suicide. It's illegal. But can you punish them? No. So what's the point of the law?

Of course, it's also illegal to kill a sasquatch in British Columbia...

Barry Eisler said...

Rae, agreed, politics would make mounting a proper study hard.

MG, lots of good questions that should be part of any sensible approach to drug policymaking. One point I disagree with: you said, "I can see a highly lucrative resale market to the under 18 crowd with the dealers suffering no more than a little inconvenience as they travel from store to store." I think we would see the opposite effect. If you stood to lose your lucrative drug license if you were caught selling to under-aged buyers, why would you take the risk? How many liquor stores sell to underaged today? A few, certainly, and that's one of the costs that should be considered in policymaking. But, like everything else, it has to be weighed against the costs of prohibtion. Which is one of the things that seems so lacking in our society's discussion of drugs: all I hear about is the potential costs of *ending* prohibition. I rarely hear anything about the costs of prohibition itself. I find this lack of balance strange, and indicative of a weird state of denial.

Peregrine, you said: "Meth is a huge problem in my state. The violence from meth isn't just from the fact that it's illegal. It's that meth is exceptionally dangerous to produce, yielding toxic waste, and these labs can and do explode."

These sound like problems that are caused by meth's illegality. There are all sorts of products that are dangerous to produce, but we don't (typically) have toxic explosions at Dow Corning etc. because their operations are subject to OSHA and other government standards, inspections, etc. If you want to reduce Meth lab explosions, toxic runoffs, etc., can you think of a better way than ending prohibition and subjecting meth production to the same standards that govern production of other products?

"As for food, I don't think it's a fair comparison. If someone wants to clog their arteries and die young, their problem isn't going to take me out with them."

This is exactly why I think a cost/benefit approach is needed. How many people are attacked by psychotic meth users every year? How much would we expect that number to increase if we ended prohibition (assuming it would increase at all)? How much violence and other costs are *caused* by prohibition? Balance it out and choose the policy that will most likely get you the results you're after.

My sense is that you're assuming that if meth weren't illegal, use would skyrocket. If reputable economists could demonstrate this to be unlikely, would your opinion about prohibition change?

Barry Eisler said...

Sandra, agreed, some laws -- like outlawing suicide -- are stupid. But they also cost nothing. It's the stupid laws that cost us a great deal that lead me to blog...

Anonymous said...

LDF/Barry: Yes, Peregrine as in falcon.

"Sure there is violence that results from alcohol use, but that is not the type of violence I am talking about."

Understood that you've seen horrific violence (and thank you for what you do). That said, do more people die from the violence of users of a particular drug, or the violence of manufacturers/distributors? Dead is dead, by whatever means--domestic violence, DUI (which permanently disables in addition to killing), floating in a swamp because the competition wanted you gone.

Are more of those deaths innocent victims, or willing participants?

Oh, OK, Barry. Cost/benefit analysis. I'll concede that point. But only because you and LDF circled my flanks and convinced me. ;-)

I’m not actually advocating alcohol prohibition, btw.

"Meth - interesting drug. I have dealt with a lot of meth. Your post, though, rings with a touch of hyperbole to me."

Everything I know about meth is from my local papers, so I appreciate your info. I'll breathe a little easier downtown now. But I still don't like meth, and I'd just as soon it not be available, period.

"The last group is easy to eliminate - legalize meth and the cookers are out of business the next day."

(Also addressing Barry here.) I don't make that assumption. Reason being that it could turn out to be much, much cheaper to cook your own than to purchase state sanctioned meth. Heck, people are now making their own ethanol with gas prices climbing:

"An addict who has to pay a 1000% markup to obtain his drug of choice (be it booze, dope, etc.) will go to extreme lengths to obtain it."

Even if it's cheap, won't an addict go to extreme lengths once they've hit rock bottom and have no income?

"Your question about body language of speed freaks is valid, but I think a little overblown."

I wasn't clear. I mean *my* body language. People are unusually drawn to me and some (but not all) of those people are sick. It's weird. I'll be standing at a bus stop minding my own business, and a stranger will walk up and tell me their life story. They just want someone to listen--they don't intend harm. However, I've also had people appear from nowhere and physically grab me in broad daylight in a crowd to tell me their psychotic delusions. I'm not kidding. It's been like this since I was seven.

I have learned when to project calm and keep my claws retracted and when to puff up and hiss. I have fewer problems now. But all of that works much better when the person receiving the signals is in a mental state where they can recognize them and have enough sense to feel fear/self-restraint.

So yes, I find stories about pumped up speed freaks scary. Freaky people go out of their way to hone in on me, and the garages downtown and the approaches to them are isolated, filled with places to hide, and are frequented by folks with problems. Sure, there are security cameras, but it's not at all unusual to be isolated long enough for someone to nail you. We lost a bunch of cops in the recession, so things have become bad in recent years. The state is now kicking in some $$ to help with that.

This isn't to imply that I'm living in terror downtown or anything. But experience has taught me that I have to be more alert and aware than most folks. So I think about these things more.

"But keep an eye out for that one time. :) "

LOL! Yeah, that's the kicker, isn't it? :-)

Barry wrote: "My sense is that you're assuming that if meth weren't illegal, use would skyrocket. If reputable economists could demonstrate this to be unlikely, would your opinion about prohibition change?"

If use wouldn't skyrocket, then my opinion might change--provided the demographics of who was using didn't also change. It's not just about economics. It's about kids and peer pressure and how available substances would become. A kid experiments and gets drunk, the most likely result is they throw up and sleep it off. These harder drugs seem to me more likely to kill or permanently damage during casual experimentation.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I think we would see the opposite effect. If you stood to lose your lucrative drug license if you were caught selling to under-aged buyers, why would you take the risk? How many liquor stores sell to underaged today? A few, certainly, and that's one of the costs that should be considered in policymaking. But, like everything else, it has to be weighed against the costs of prohibtion.

I agree with this, Barry. I was talking about the customer, not the primary seller, the guy who goes to the corner store to pick up a couple of Oxycontin, some percocet, a little ritalin, six-pack of valium and a Soma chaser. Then he takes those wares to the local pizza joint and sells them for ten times what he paid to little Molly and Petey.

It happens now in the prescription drug market. It's the reason that docs are hog-tied and the people who really need those drugs have to jump through hoops to get 'em. All we'll have removed is the illegality of the first step, the original purchase. There will be no need to steal triple-scrip pads, waste ER time and resources pretending to be in acute pain in order to score a little vicodin, maintain a dozen identities to get a dozen scrips from legit docs, or break into offices to get to the sample packs. Joe Pusher can operate in a far safer environment, procuring his wares with the blessing of Uncle Sam and likely cutting and repackaging them with G*d knows what to sell to the kids without fake IDs.

JA Konrath said...

Legalize it, tax the hell out of it, and let whatever happens happen.

So many laws are in place to protect people from themselves. That's what parents are for, not politicians.

We don't even have to legalize everything. We could legalize the softer drugs, and decriminalize the harder drugs. Why buy heroin on a street corner if you could get XTC for cheap at 7/11?

Drug crime would be over, taxes could take care of the new rehab centers, and a new industry could employee all the people released from prison on drug-related offenses.

The downside? Lots of people would die. But that number would taper off after a few years. And aren't evolution and attrition important in a species?

BTW, I'm trademarking this slogan once pot is legal:

"Just say no... to high prices!"

Mindy Tarquini said...

What kind of job would be available to former DEA workers?

Hee! I say that about the Flat Tax. Accountants, Estate Planners and CFP's would be on corners sellings pencils out of tin cups.

Mindy Tarquini said...

People sell drugs they get from the doctor now because they make so much money doing it. The markup is enormous. If you eliminate that markup do you think that would still happen? Do you see that happening with alcohol a lot? And if not, why not?

Exactly Law Dawg, that's what I was trying to say. There's a big street value for prescription meds. A lot of people conning their docs that they're in pain, and dirty docs who work with pushers, prescribing enormous quantities of the stuff to a variety of alias' and splitting street proceeds.

The result for physicians is that they have to be careful who they write pain meds, and other types of popular meds, for, and the quantities for which they write. Even for their chronics. New scrips have to be written every month and while, the scrip can be mailed, it cannot be called in requiring two trips to the pharmacy, one to drop the scrip, one to pick it up. Not a big deal for most of the population. In the case of people needing pain meds, that extra trip can be a very difficult experience.

With legalization, the markup wouldn't happen at the first level - the government store, the markup would happen at the second level - the resale to minors.

There are plenty of people suffering from recalcitrant pain, and others who need their daily dose of ritalin to function who would love to see the it just put out there, something they could send their neighbor to pick up for them. As would plenty of abusers. I'm just positing that the problem of remarketing of prescription meds doesn't end with legalizing the practice, it just shifts the market for the marked up product.

People who procure alcohol for the under-21 crowd, tend to do so for reasons other than profit. Many people have it in their homes anyway, have it readily available in social situations and order it in restaurants. I don't see ordering a side of oxycontin with our steak happening anytime soon, though. It doesn't have the social acceptance alcohol does.

Which sparks an interesting thought. Do we do like we do in so many states and make the legal age for stringing oneself out on drugs to be 21? The reasoning behind that age limit is sound.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Of course social acceptance is not an acceptable reasoning for criminality, or is it?

That's what Mom and Dad drummed into me everytime I tried to convince them otherwise.

Hmmm...seems people drank alcohol instead of water during medieval times, didn't they? Because the water was so suspect? Or is that just wishful thinking?

Better we raise the age for going to war to 21, than lower that for drinking to 18.

Anonymous said...

"I know what you mean about strange people coming up to you. I am a crazy magnet. I'm not kidding, its something else. But in all that I've never been attacked by a strung out druggie."

So you understand firsthand what I mean. A lot of people don't get it. By the time the man off his meds grabbed me, I was so used to it I stayed calm, listened for a moment, thanked him for his time, then gently peeled his hands off my arm and walked away slowly. The friend who was with me was freaking out. Fortunately, fear kept her still and quiet.

Or there was the time a horrible car accident occured near my bus stop. The woman standing over my left shoulder witnessed it, screamed, plastered her body against mine, and wrapped me in a bear hug from behind. I had only heard the accident, so didn't really understand why I was under attack. I did manage to not panic and attack her. She didn't let go until I gently peeled her off either--lol!

"Keep your situational awareness up. I bet you'll be fine."

Yeah, I've gotten better at it. Life's a good teacher. ;-)

"The question is - would making drugs legal increase these deaths? And even if they did do we as a society have a right to regulate people's actions in their "best interest?" That was my point about obesity, because it is far and away the number one killer of people in the US. And if we say narcotics should be illegal then how about tobacco?"

Add to that is "who dies?" As long as it's the individual engaging in the behavior, I'm less concerned, if they're an adult. If people want to kill themselves smoking, I don't get it. But I won't interfere with their right to do so, provided I don't have to breathe secondhand smoke.

"Criminality associated with drug use is almost all price driven."

It may be now, but even with studies, it's hard to predict what will happen altering the price structure.

"Sure no money and job are impediments to obtaining drugs but they are to booze as well. And what do we see? Pandhandling."

Are alcoholics as desperate for their next hit as a heroine addict, though? And is a sobering alcholic more rational in their thought/behavior than someone coming off of certain drug highs that they'll feel inhibition against violence toward others?

And I still don't want to see prescription meds go OTC. People are careless enough about dosing when they're prescribed. If they try to self-medicate, accidental deaths of people wanting the drug for health reasons would climb, I believe. It's not just doseage--it's drug interactions, and people often don't tell docs what else they've been prescribed, let alone what they're taking OTC.

"Finally, to your question as to would it be cheaper to cook your own meth or buy it? Don't know. But how many illegal stills do you know pumping out booze? None I bet."

Not illegal, no, but home brew is a big hobby. I don't want to see home brew meth supply retailers the way I see home brew for wine and beer.

Fun chatting with you, LDF. :-)

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I plain wouldn't want drugs to be legalized...We have enough of our society being dumbed down now, with the effects of illegal drugs, why make it easier for them to get!

If drugs were legalized it would create a whole new million pages of additional laws, because then we'd have to come up with new frameworks for testing pilots, bus drivers, cab drivers and everyone else in the service industry that might put an innocent bystander at risk by their, now, legal behavior.

The only people I could see profitting from such a move would be the manufacturers and sellers.

That's it...the campaign to rid society of second hand smoke is now moving on to second hand drugs.

As our social woes continue to degrade our quality of life, there will always be an increasingly larger faction of society that is looking to escape, whether by legal or illegal means.

Making it easier for someone to ruin their health with legalized drugs only adds them to the roles of the physical or mentally sick burden on our over-taxed mental health system.

An if you think that by decriminalizing it less people will take them, that is wishful thinking IMHO!

Adam Hurtubise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy McFab said...

My God, Barry, I agree completely with your last two blog entries! Once again, though, I find a strange lack of moral reasoning on your part--your arguments are all pragmatic, which is a pretty useless way of thinking.
The drug argument should begin with the question of whether or not I have the right to hurt myself, not whether or not preventing me from doing so costs you too much money.
I appreciate that you believe you are Vulcan-like in your intellectual abilities, but so does Sean Hannity. Saying you're the only one getting to the "heart of the matter" doesn't make it so, and your elitist mentality is why I continue coming here to insult you.
Kudus, though, for not relying on Slugg to write/validate your last two posts. That's a big step towards getting over an unrequited love.

Anonymous said...

Is money what we now look at to decide our morals? Would I feel better trying to arrest a drugged out creep knowing it was now easy for him to get his drugs?

We are currently here in Toledo trying to convict a priest of murdering a nun. It happened over twenty years ago. Why waste all that money on an incident that never happened before, and most likely never happen again? Why not just make it legal for a priest to murder a nun?

Does law dawg fed really want to invalidate what he spent twenty years fighting?

I must really be missing something here.

Randy McFab said...

Well lookie there, Barry. JH and I are on different sides apparently, yet we both seem to agree that your "pragmatic" approach is morally reprehensible.
Measuring the costs of the drug war in how much California chardonnay you might miss out on sipping with young UFC wanna-be's that you pick up in the Castro may make sense to you, but it is NOT how most Americans decide policy. Most of us actually consider the morality, and the personal costs, not just the wallet or in your case purse.

Randy McFab said...

BTW, I log in as "randy mcfab" because that's the blogger profile that comes up and I'm too lazy to change it.
That some of your readers believe that to be a real profile says more than I ever could about the mentality of your supporters.

JD Rhoades said...

One of the things that continues to frustrate me about this debate is the umbrella defintion of "drugs" as if there's only one form of intoxicant.
Weed, for example, is not meth. The physical effects are different, the mental effects are different, they're just different all around. To lump them both in the same discussion about "drugs" is simplistic. So when we talk about leglaizing "drugs" lets' be clear abut which drugs we want to legalize, lest we open the door for the specious, "you want to legalize heroin for schoolchildren" crap we hear from the narco-hysterics.

your arguments are all pragmatic, which is a pretty useless way of thinking.

This pretty much says it all about "Randy", doesn't it? Screw logic, screw what actually works, let's just go with what makes us feel moral and upright.

Remember when it was supposed to be liberals who thought this way?

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Hmmm, JD...good point!

Barry, exactly which 'drugs' are we debating here?

I assumed it was all drugs...but you know what assume does...LOL!

Barry Eisler said...

Peregrine, agreed, just because we got certain results when we ended prohibition for alcohol doesn't mean we'll get the same results if we end prohibition for other drugs. I would want my proposed cost/benefit approach to be applied case by case. More on this below.

Joe, you raise an interesting point about protecting people from themselves. More on this below.

Oakknoll, there's an interesting thought experiment in there... if it looked as though the US were going to end to drug prohibition, would drug cartels be glad, or distraught? I would guess the latter.

MG, don't get me started about a flat tax... okay, you already did, so I'll raise you: abolish the income tax in favor of a national sales tax! Yeah, we'll probably end prohibition first... Oakknoll, talk about your embedded bureaucracies! Congress would have nothing to do if it couldn't fiddle with the tax code.

Bonnie, you raise an interesting point about social costs. More on this below.

JH, I don't see anyone suggesting that we look to money to decide our morals. Where did you get that? From my proposal for a cost/benefit study? I'm using the word cost to cover much more than financial costs -- I'm trying to factor in all the items I mention in my original post (and I'm sure there are many more). As for the murder case you refer to, how is allowing people to use drugs the same as allowing them to murder?

You seem to articulate a philosophy wherein if the government thinks a behavior is undesirable, it follows that, morally, the behavior must be declared illegal (if I'm misunderstanding or mischaracterizing your stance, please straighten me out). More on this below.

JD, good point. There's no reason that the cost/benefit approach I advocate should be applied to all drugs together; I think it would make more sense to apply it case by case. There are important differences in terms of addictiveness, the behavior induced, potential use as poison, and probably many others that should all be assessed. It would probably be as short-sighted to advocate a cost/benefit appoach for all drugs together as it would be to argue for across the board application of prohibition.

Okay, let's see if we're getting closer to the heart of the matter here...

Let's talk about objectives for a minute. With drugs, the possible objectives all seem to come from things we're worried about. Are we worried that, if drugs weren't prohibited, people would hurt themselves with them? Or that they would hurt others -- for example, in a violent meth frenzy? Or that, in the aggregate, they would hurt society? Or is the objective to declare the immorality of drug use by making it illegal? Are there other possible objectives that I'm missing in this list?

Let's bounce those questions about objectives around a little and see what we come up with. Because I'm getting the feeling that our (and our society's) disagreement over means stems from an underlying and less obvious disagreement over objectives.

Thanks everyone for keeping this civil and productive. Very interesting conversation.

-- Barry

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I don't object to people frying their own brains...although the genetic gene pool is getting weaker by the generation. The drugs used by my generation (60's, 70's)have had a contribution to the physical and mental health of today's generation.

What I object to is the rising costs of mental and physical health care for these debilitated people that always falls to the states in the form of higher Medicaid costs. Right now in New York, each county and in turn "we the taxpayers" wind up with the burden, that is higher than in any other state.

Use the alcohol Prohibition...back in the day, as an example. When prohibition ended, it didn't do anything to reduce the number of people that were drinking. Look at the state of alcholism in this country today. Now it is considered a disease rather than a choice, and these people can collect Disability from the Federal Gov' tax dollars at work! I can't afford to pay any more taxes for people who choose unwisely!

Barry, you didn't say which drugs we're talking about legalizing!

Mindy Tarquini said...

Barry - take your pick - flat tax, or National sales tax to replace the income tax. I'm all for it. Hell! I'll lead the parade -
'Si! Se puede!'
'Tax Amnesty for the Rich!'
'Alternative Minimum Taxes for EVERYONE!'
'Nobody is Exempt!'

Of course, my reasons for supporting it are completely non-altruistic. Most of the rest of the country would end up paying through the nose. And there's the problem of prying the noses of all those financial gurus out of the Internal Revenue Code.

With respect to Joe. I'm all for personal responsibility. And I love it when parents do their jobs. But there's a reason CPS stays so busy. Until we can find some way to train, test, license and regulate parents, there have to be laws in place to protect kids from themselves and from people who would exploit, neglect or abuse them. There's a reason we call them MINORS.

Regarding legalizing 'drugs' (and that's the point, I've been trying to make. Not all drugs are created equal.) my objectives, interests, would be in saving money, reducing legislation and bureaucracy and providing a safe and healthful environment to citizens of this fair country.

We pay now for people who hurt themselves through lousy lifestyle choices. I guess we could troll the savings derived from legalization into covering those costs. Taxing the hell out of it is a great idea. This kind of government inspired larceny does much towards returning welfare checks back to government coffers. - Think State Lotteries. Yet, the proceeds effectively shift the output from the recipients to services for the elderly.

Or...maybe we could shuttle it into social security? How about education? A national healthcare system that doesn't make people stand in line for subpar care, or tie physicians into knots filling out those silly little forms? Or maybe a really strong, tall, big block fence along the border with Mexico? With razor wire. And cameras. And sufficient numbers of big, burly Border Patrol guards?

Sorry, I'm going off topic. Objective - save money, make life nicer and safer for people.

Anonymous said...

Law dawg fed, you don’t believe that most laws are based on some morality of right and wrong? What do you think they are based on? Theft, murder, rape, etc., are all based on some degree of what the society feels is right versus wrong.

Barry, you are suggesting it seems to me whether the fight against drugs is worth the time and money. Since you write that Mexico is coming to their senses by legalizing some drugs, it implies that you have already made your decision, and now want facts and figures that give weight to your views. That view in my opinion is why we now have prostitution and gambling legal in some areas. If you can’t fight em . . .

The point I was trying to make is that the decision has to be made on if the fight is right or is it wrong. If it is right, then the war should be fought as efficiently as possible. Drugs use is not victimless crime. All of society pays in one way or another. We have numerous laws on driving regulations. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars enforcing laws against drunk drivers, driving under suspension, and other licensing crimes. These laws do not prevent drivers from driving illegally. Since we can’t stop it, and it cost us money to enforce it, then maybe we should just let everyone drive without driving tests, eye tests, safe vehicles, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am saying these things without Randy's knowledge. He's at work clearing porno from sickos PC's before there wifes catch them.

The Heart of the Matter: While I was in the Gulf watching grown men unable to fire there weopons, after Gunny Smith told them they were trained killers, Randy was in the jungles combating the War on Drugs. As a side note randy has seen the devastation drugs do at home too.

So while I told Randy ya gotta read this Eisler guy. He's seriously the best writer out today. That is damn near fact too.We both where taken a back by Barry's blog. Dude, I said sorry, I had no clur this guy was this libral. Neither did we know the commenters would be this libed.

Not hear to defend Randy, he's a great friend of mine. He's seen things beyond. "Fine Sctoch Whiskey" and judo classes. More then anyone of us.

The problem being Randy and I don't ponder our thoughts over whiskey. Right is Right, wrong is wrong.

I said a couple of weeks ago I was not going to post here. well I wanted to clarify Randy. I brought him here because frankly Barry is an assest to our country as an author. Hell not only does he drive a section of our econmy, he creates strong readers. To that I say thanks to Barry. Please understand that there our more then veiws then Frisco Politics

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typos guys...Gunny Smith failed to give us english classes. I hate publicly commenting anyway.

Barry BTW: the new book, one word, fantastic!!! Amazing!!

Anonymous said...


Gotta disagree with you about the national sales tax. It's unfair to lower income folks. I'd rather have a very simple sliding-scale flat tax. Under 25,000 - no income tax at all. 25,000 - 50,000, maybe 10%. And so on.

You asked Or is the objective to declare the immorality of drug use by making it illegal? That gets back to the point I talked about earlier. Trying to legislate morality is simply not going to work. Every time we try, we fail miserably. Unfortunately, there are too many elected officials whose constituencies demand morality-based positions on issues, so they're not able, even if they want to, to approach the problem pragmatically.

In my view, that's why we can't agree on means. We can't think clearly about the problem because we get stuck debating our views on the morality of drug use - we are unable to take a step back and be thoughtful about it all.

Beyond that, these are contentious times. Civil discourse and debate are rare, particularly inside the Beltway - I don't see a way to intelligently solve the problem in the current environment.

Adam Hurtubise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mindy Tarquini said...

You're absolutely right, Adam. From Zero Tax Bracket to a top of...36 or 39 percent now, I think - I'm not sure. however, the real taxes people pay are much lower than that, because of mortgage deductions and that's a great big chunk of the middle class. Also, they are in the best position to take advantage of tax advantaged items like deductions for higher education expenses, Roth and traditional IRAs, being once again allowed to deduct the interest on home mortgages and enjoying full deductions on Schedule A adjustments, being able to deduct sales tax. Over about 130K or so, I'd have to check, I don't keep up on it like I used to, the taxpayer pays higher marginal tax rates, plus have the amount of schedule A deduction they may take squeezed down. In addition, there's an, IMHO, punitive tax called the alternative minimum tax which seems to penalize those with higher incomes for being frugal and wise in their investments.

I've been wondering what a flat tax, or national sales tax in lieu of income taxes would do to property values. Without the deductions for interest, I'd theorize it would put tremendous downward pressure on the market, as potential buyers fall by the wayside. They may or may not be able to afford to buy if values adjust downwards, but that likewise presumes a seller can afford to sell. Obviously, the effects to the economy in general would be far reaching. It would be interesting if somebody did a study on general and specific effects and how long before markets corrected. Also, the effect on interest rates in the long and short term.

Mindy Tarquini said...

being once again allowed to deduct the interest on home mortgage


my bad. Off to clean glasses.

Barry Eisler said...

Uh-oh, I knew I shouldn't have brought up the sales tax... this is my fault...

Rae, I agree that a sales tax would have to be designed so as not to be too hard on lower income people. To that end, I would exempt food. You could argue for further exemptions, but the more exemptions you build in, the more complicated the thing becomes, creating complication costs including bureaucracy, interpretation, implementation, lobbyists, constant changes...

MG, I agree that if we eliminated the mortgage interest deduction, there would be some kind of adjustment in the housing market. But that's only a correction of the distortion we currently have in the form of the government subsidizing home buying.

An anecdote: when I was in law school, bar exam preparation courses typically cost about $250. Then law firms routinely started picking up the cost for their incoming associates. Within a few years, review courses cost over $1000. If people have more to spend because some third party is picking up the cost, prices will rise...

As you can see, I tend to prefer an overall cost/benefit approach in such matters to try to find out what's best for society as a whole...

JH, I have to echoe Law Dawg's question. Is the moral element of being pro-prohibition focused on an individual taking drugs, or on the costs of individual use on the larger society? Either way, you seem to be implicitly accepting that one's stance on drugs is cost/benefit based, rather than morally based. With regard to those costs, I talked about a lot more than "time and money" in my original post. To repeat: "prohibition involves costs: diversion of security, intelligence, military, judicial, border, customs, and prison resources; profits to the enemies of democracy in Latin America and Afghanistan; hostility to the US when our military assists in trying to eradicate crops abroad... [and] diverting so many resources from the war against Islamofascism increases the risk that we could lose an American city to a suitcase nuke." You seem to decry legalized gambling and prostitution. Why? And would you prefer to prohibit alcohol? Not trying to be provocative, just to understand your views.

Dtodeen, thanks for the kind words about the Rain books. My leftist friends think I'm a rightist; my rightist friends think I'm a leftist. It's one of the reasons I could never be elected to public office. As for, "Right is Right, wrong is wrong," I doubt anyone would disagree.

Back to LD's question... is there a moral element to prohibition? If so, what is it? Is it immoral to use a substance that induces pleasure? Yes, but only if doing so harms the user's health? Yes, but only if use hurts society as a whole? I ask because I don't see a connection between drug use and morality any more than I see one between overeating, obesity, and morality, but it seems that others do.

Mindy Tarquini said...

There'd be far reaching consequences for a switch to a flat rate or a national sales tax. It would require a sea change in perception and behavior. Lots of people will be looking for other careers, but brand new careers will pour in to feel that gap.

Barry, an anecdote: I was at a political fundraiser in Philly for a congressman in Montomery County. He comes up to me, shakes my hand. "What concerns you?"
"Taxes," I say.
He launches into the choreographed, taxes are bad, hard on the middle class, I feel your pain speech. I put up a hand to stop him. I start in on my taxes aren't so bad, we need police and fire and soldiers and education and roads and whatnot, but why should higher wage-earners be penalized for having reasonable mortgages, or 'gasp' no mortgage, why are schedule A deducations limited, why can't they deduct IRA's, medical expenses, property taxes to the extent most of the other people in the country can, blah blah blah. I launch into numbers and what if's, draw pictures, explain I had no issue with the graduated income tax, but I had issue with slapping people on the wrist for having higher salaries.

His eyes glazed over. Finally, I said to him. "You don't have the foggiest notion what I'm talking about, do you?"

He admitted he didn't, but he'd have an aide look into it.

I told him to point me to the aide, I'd be happy to explain it to her.

Then I did. She didn't have any notion what I was talking about either, but she, at least, pretended to be horrified for my benefit.

All in all, a delightful cocktail party.

Anonymous said...

Barry wrote: "There's no reason that the cost/benefit approach I advocate should be applied to all drugs together; I think it would make more sense to apply it case by case. There are important differences in terms of addictiveness, the behavior induced, potential use as poison, and probably many others that should all be assessed."

This I would agree with more. I was reading you as proposing a global cost/benefit approach with an all-or-nothing outcome, and that I don't accept.

Legalizing marijuana, for example, likely makes a lot of sense. I don't think it's any more problematic than alcohol is. Maybe less so--doesn't it make people mellow, whereas alcohol can make people violent?

I think prescription meds should remain under the authority of the FDA, however, regardless. Patient safety has to take priority over some people's desire to use drugs recreationally, and I don't want to see the FDA's authority undermined.

Problems, I see, however:

a. If you only legalize some drugs, won't the people profiting off of illegal drugs simply shift to the remaining lucrative illegal ones and drop the ones that were legalized? So would this approach make any difference in the end? Except maybe to increase violence by increasing competition for market share of the remaining illegal drugs.

b. Given the potential for drugs to harm consumers, I would think part of legalizing drugs would be to put regulations in place, right? And some of those regulations would have to do with quality control.

Given the lawsuits against the tobacco industry, what legitimate company is likely to produce what were once illegal drugs that can harm the individuals using them? And if legitimate producers don't step in, won't you end up with illegitimate ones setting up shop to fill demand? At which point you'll need enforcement of the regulatory laws. Which might land us exactly where we are now.

Except I don't believe we fund regulatory agencies as well as we fund law enforcement agencies. So how much enforcement would there really be for things like quality control, and how many people would be harmed because they assumed that because the substance was sanctioned and regulated by the government, that substance was "safe" for them to use?

Or are you proposing that we legalize these drugs and then tell people "buyer beware" and step back and do nothing regarding production and distribution?

Anonymous said...

I wrote: "b. Given the potential for drugs to harm consumers, I would think part of legalizing drugs would be to put regulations in place, right? And some of those regulations would have to do with quality control."

Law Dawg replied: "Do me a favor. In your above sentence take out the word drug and replace it with the word fat and see how it reads."

My point exactly. We regulate food production--there is quality control in place. So you can rest assured that is fresh, pure fat you are eating, and not some rancid stuff scraped off the undersides of the counters at McDonald's.

Once you hand the government responsibility for regulating a substance, quality control becomes part of that responsibility.

I wrote: "Given the lawsuits against the tobacco industry, what legitimate company is likely to produce what were once illegal drugs that can harm the individuals using them?"

Law Dawg replied: "Aren't most of the lawsuits against them driven on the issue that the tobacco industry lied about the addiction and health issues with tobacco? Or am I reading this all wrong? It seems to me that it wasn't that they were bad for you so much as the industry covered up the fact that they were."

Hmmm. Good point. I'm trying to recall the specifics of the lawsuit that the State of Minnesota won. I think you're right.

Still, there does seem to be a trend toward expecting producers to take responsibility for the effects of their products. Lay's potato chips just switched to sunflower oil which is supposed to be better than cottonseed oil, for example.

Who knows where that trend will end up. But even if lawsuits against fast food places don't go anywhere, there is still pressure to provide healthier choices and to change products to reduce the nasty stuff in them. Producers are responding to that, even if only for marketing purposes. And they do lie in those efforts, leading regulatory agencies to create rules regarding what words like "lite" mean.

That regulation can only occur because of quality control, however.

I wrote: "Or are you proposing that we legalize these drugs and then tell people "buyer beware" and step back and do nothing regarding production and distribution?"

Law Dawg wrote: "Yes. In my worthless opinion anyway."

I think you'd have a hard time getting society to accept that. People expect regulation of legal substances. Part of that regulation is quality control. So you want pure "insert name of drug here" of known potency. If it's cut with anything--particularly anything that does harm--then consumers will be up in arms.

Of course, they might be easy to ignore, given that the majority probably won't have a lot of sympathy for junkies who are harmed by tainted drugs. Until kids are the ones who are harmed, and then I think there would be an outcry over why we are creating a separate class of regulated substances where quality control is not part of the regulation.

Barry Eisler said...

Hey Alan D., good to have you here! And I hope to see more of you.