The Drug War's Collateral Damage

Drug prohibition militarizes our police, enriches our enemies, undermines our laws, and condemns our sick to suffering.

At around 6pm on January 27 of last year, 80-year-old Isaac Singletary spotted a couple of drug dealers attempting to do business on his front lawn. It wasn’t the first time. Singletary, described by relatives as territorial and a bit crotchety, did what he’d done in the past. He grabbed his gun, and walked out on to his lawn to scare them off. Problem is, this time the men weren’t drug dealers. They were undercover Jacksonville, Florida police posing as drug dealers. They had come on to Singletary’s property to bait possible drug offenders. When he brandished his gun, the police shot Singletary four times, once in the back. He died a short time later. A subsequent investigation by Florida’s attorney general cleared the officers who shot Singletary of any wrongdoing.

Singletary wasn’t a drug dealer. Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford described him as “an honest citizen trying to do good.” Florida Governor Charlie Crist visited Jacksonville a few days later. When asked by a reporter about Singletary’s death, Crist euphemistically called it one of the “challenges in fighting crime.”

Singletary is far from the first innocent person to die for the war on drugs, and he’s nowhere near the last. But let’s call Singletary’s death what it is: collateral damage. Like the collateral damage of military wars overseas—innocents inadvertently killed by bombs, bullets, and missiles aimed at legitimate targets—Singletary's a victim only because he happened to live in close proximity to the government's intended target, in this case, drug offenders. And like the civilian casualties of military wars, Singletary’s death won't do a thing to cause the people who run this war to rethink their priorities. Because for them, the ultimate goal is more important than the innocent lives they may take along the way. As Governor Crist said, Singletary's death is really little more than a "challenge" on the journey to a drug-free Florida.

But whatever you may think of the legitimacy of some of America’s military wars, past or present, they’re waged under at least the pretense that they’re necessary to defeat a foreign aggressor that poses a real threat to U.S. security. The drug war’s aim is to stop people from getting high.

When Richard Nixon first uttered the phrase “war on drugs” in 1971, he chose his words carefully. Government declarations of war signal to the country that the threat we’re facing is so perilous, so grave, so existential, that in order to defeat it, we should prepare to give up some basic freedoms, to make significant sacrifices, and—yes—to accept the inevitable collateral damage we may endure on our way to victory. It so happens that to Nixon, that threat was dirty hippies smoking marijuana and urban blacks strung out on heroin.

It was during the Reagan administration that the “war on drugs” got a lot more literal. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was backed by an administration of culture warriors ready to settle remnant grudges from the 1960s, an aggressive justice department, and an eager and compliant Congress. Every 1980s celebrity overdose or high-profile drug abuse story (many of which turned out to be false or exaggerated—see the infamous “crack baby” myth, or the Washington Post’s retracted series on “Jimmy,” the 8-year-old heroin addict) sent both parties scrambling to see who could pass the most odious and draconian new drug bill. The climax came in 1986, when Maryland basketball phenom and Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Eric Sterling, who helped write much of that legislation and is now an activist for reforming the drug laws, likened the frenzy to a stampeding herd of wildebeests. From journalist Dan Baum’s terrific history of the drug war, Smoke and Mirrors:

Sterling had once seen a film shooting Tanzania; a million wildebeest grazing peacefully, until one of them started running. Assuming danger, a few more joined in, and in no time, the whole heard was stampeding wildly, trampling the sick and the slow, laying waste to the flora and fauna alike in a senseless headlong panic. Those images kept occurring to him as he watched Congress in the weeks following Len Bias’s death.


The wildebeests have been charging in a blind gallop ever since. Through the Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations, both major political parties have exacerbated and expanded what is arguably the most destructive and wasteful government policy of the last 40 years.

Culture11 asked me to write a piece outlining the drug war’s collateral damage. That’s a tall order. The drug war touches nearly every area of American life—certainly all facets of U.S. public policy. But here are a few areas where drug prohibition has done the most damage:

Police Militarization

In the 1980s, the “war” part of the drug war got very real. America’s long (and wise) constraint on using the military for domestic policing began to blur, as states deployed National Guard troops to search for marijuana hidden in fields and forests and, in some cases, to patrol drug-riddled inner cities. The line between cop and soldier further blurred when President Reagan authorized active-duty elite military units to train with narcotics police, and then again with the exploding use of paramilitary SWAT teams in America.

Only a handful of police departments had SWAT teams in the 1970s, and they were only deployed in total a few hundred times per year. That number soared to around 4,000 per year by the early 1980s. There are around 50,000 SWAT deployments per year today in America, and they’re primarily used to serve drug warrants.

By the late 1980s, Congress had opened up the Pentagon’s cache of surplus military equipment for civilian police departments across the country to scavenge, again driven largely by the drug war. Millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on the battlefield—including guns, tanks, armored personnel vehicles, helicopters, grenade launchers, and armor—would now be used on American streets, against American citizens. Parallel to the rise of SWAT teams was the rise of the “no-knock raid” which sent cops barreling into private homes to look for dope, a particularly aggressive and violent method of policing, that has since left behind a predictable trail of tragedy.

As many police officers internalize the mentality that they’re fighting a “war,” police-community relations have soured, and many officers have adopted the “us or them” mindset typically seen in soldiers. Here’s former Kansas City and San Jose police chief Joseph McNamara, in a 2006 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

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  • sage||

    Caption Contest!

    "Bad Plants, bad plants, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when we spray toxic herbicide all over you!"

  • Orange Line Special||

    If Reason wanted to do something besides whine they'd try to confront those they oppose and do their best to show how they're wrong (according to Reason). They don't do that, they just whine in pages no one reads.

    The top question here is weak, and anyone who's not stoned can come up with the formulaic answer that will be offered: digg.com/dialogg/John_Boehner_1

    The potheads also polluted BHO's site with their stoned questions, which were then answered with formulaic answers, including the second time when the idiots asked the same question (perhaps expecting a different response).

    Think of it as Darwinism.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Oh, OLS is here, but he didn't see fit to post his personal information this time.

    What a shame.

  • ||

    As long as there is an industry built around the belief that drug use is wrong (just look at the ads that come up with this page) and that it is something that should be tested for as a condition of employment, the war will continue. We're talking billion dollar industries here (aka Big Sobriety).

  • Alanis M.||

    They don't do that, they just whine in pages no one reads.

    Ironic, dontcha think?

  • ed||

    Poppies...Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep...Now they'll sleep!

  • ||

    I notice this article doesn't address what to do to change this situation. Yes, we read Reason, so we ALREADY KNOW the government sucks, and this just another example of why and how. But maybe other commenters can share, what do you do to change it? Donations to the Drug Policy Alliance? The MPP? NORML? Wait for the old coots to die off?

  • SpongePaul||

    I would propose the dutch approach, where soft drugs, those that really do no harm are tolerated and controlled (coffeshops) I am all for the end of prohibition on NON ADDICTIVE drugs (mj shrooms x lsd rc's etc.) but the addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine, not coca leaf though should remain unlaful.
    just my .02

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...they just whine in pages no one reads.

    Oh, Lonewacko, master of irony...

  • ||

    Wait for the old coots to die off?

    Ask the 60s generation how well that worked out.

  • Warty||

  • ||

    SpongePaul,

    Opium should be legal too.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Wait for the old coots to die off?

    And while we're waiting, we should tell AARP that marijuana helps block Alzheimer's. If we could get that lobbying powerhouse on the right side...

  • BakedPenguin||

    SpongePaul, so cocaine / opiate / amphetamine users should be put in prison - alongside murderers and rapists - to protect their health? You may want to examine that idea a little more.

  • ||

    Alcohol is an addictive, mood altering, decision impairing substance. To me, its just as dangerous as any other drug that people abuse. So why don't we just treat all drugs the same and be done with it?

    Is it me, or did personal responsibility too hard for America?

  • SpongePaul||

    Opium should be legal too.
    _________________________________________
    It is nice enough on its own, mmmm... O, but it is addicitve and requires a makeup of fortitude not to fall to it. I think the science of the drugs needs to come out, and rational scientific, social responsible policy, not moral based views should prevail, for what is not moral to you, may be just peachy to me, lol.

  • SpongePaul||

    SpongePaul, so cocaine / opiate / amphetamine users should be put in prison - alongside murderers and rapists - to protect their health? You may want to examine that idea a little more.
    ___________________________________________
    I did not say prison. there should be no jail time, we should have treatment, and laws that do not imprsion one afflicted with addiction, but treated. this is more sane an approach. I do not have the answers, lol. but, policy needs to change for the childrens sake, LOL

  • Tyler||

    Pirate Jo,

    The purpose of the organizations that you listed is to press for policy change. Unfortunately, these changes require a certain degree of public support.

    The purpose of Balko's article is to hopefully build that support by offering some truth to the public debate (or perhaps to state the importance of such a debate).

    What makes this article more important than, say, some kids Facebook note, is that Balko has put a large amount of effort into researching the effects of drug Prohibition. He also has a degree of exposure, so maybe someone will actually read it.

    At any rate, the War on Some Drugs will only end when there is a considerable change in public opinion. A top-down approach to policy change can never be effective until grassroots individuals like Balko do their part.

    Anyway, if someone has maybe five minutes to consider the effects of the Drug War and wants to read something informed and informative, maybe you could point them to this article.

  • ||

    @ Widow White:

    "Big Sobriety." I LIKE that!

  • Geotpf||

    Pirate Jo | January 23, 2009, 3:50pm | #

    I notice this article doesn't address what to do to change this situation. Yes, we read Reason, so we ALREADY KNOW the government sucks, and this just another example of why and how. But maybe other commenters can share, what do you do to change it?


    How about electing more Barney Franks to Congress? That would work.

    Of course, I'm guessing 90% or so of Reason readers would vote for a generic Republican, or a throwing-your-vote-away LP candidate, if they lived in Barney Franks' district. I take this to mean they think low taxes are more important than ending the drug war (as well as ending laws against other victimless crimes, like the defacto ban on on-line gambling).

  • Orange Line Special||

    Damn those old coots!

    However, "Pirate Jo" does have a point: blogdom is short on people who actually want to do something. Being used to activists, it's a bit of a shock to read blogs and all they want to do is sit on their couches getting stoned and whining. That's not limited to Reason, it's a problem with the blogs in general.

    If Reason wanted to actually do something, they've got a camera so they could go ask real questions at press conferences. Or, they could do as I suggested above and post questions to BHO's site. They can't even do that.

    P.S. I just posted about how Dave Weigel won't approve a comment I left on his site showing how he's wrong.

  • MAX HATS||

    Great article - I forwarded the Culture-11 version to all my friends last week.

  • BakedPenguin||

    SP - I disagree, but I find that a much more acceptable idea than prison.

  • ||

    I tried to make friends with Balko on Facebook. No luck yet.

    I'll pretend it's because he's so busy covering the Ryan Frederick case. Yep, that's it, I'm sure.

    If and when I get that glorious "request accepted" note, it's going into the scrapbook right next to my lock of Pernell Roberts's hair.

    PS -- Die, LoneWacko.

  • MAX HATS||

    Some people pretend their friends with celebrities. Lonewacko pretends he's enemies with bloggers. Somehow, it's even worse.

  • MAX HATS||

    gah, "they're"

    what is wrong with me

  • ||

    Dying elderly folks on Medicare get the strongest drugs - legally and at my expense.


    There is a solution for both problems here - deprive these fuckers of painkillers based on their hypocritical Rush Limbaugh mentality and see how fast Medicare operations drop until drugs are legal for everyone.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Geotpf - As disgusted as I was by Frank's grandstanding during the bailout, I would still probably vote for him due to his anti-drug war and pro-gambling stances. I sucked it up for the things I didn't like about Ron Paul (religiousity, abortion, immigration views - and later, the personality cult), I'd do the same for Frank (if I lived in his district).

    The tally in Balko's article is the reason why. I think the WoD is the single worst public policy we have, including our currently moronic economic policies.

  • Douglas Gray||

    "Collateral damage" is nothing in the drug war. During the recent incursion into Gaza, at one point, about a third of the 1115 fatalities at that time were children.

    Hamas said that Israel only killed about 50 or so actual Hamas militants. Even if this figure is inaccurate, it is still probable that the childrens' death count far exceeds the militants' death count.

    In an article in the JERSULAM POST FROM 2007
    one Rabbi said:

    "All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert." Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings. The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides' commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.

    According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, "an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals. In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.""

    So I guess this guy believes that the children of Gaza share the guilt so its all right to kill as many of 'em as you want?

    Why do our politicians of both left and right fall over each other supporting this Country? I guess cause the Jewish lobby is so rich.

    Of course, our initial collateral damage in Iraq was supposed to be around 30,000, around ten times the 9/11 death toll.

  • ed||

    Dying elderly folks on Medicare get the strongest drugs - legally and at my expense.

    And theirs. (They pay taxes too, you know.)

  • OO===D||

    Dear Douglas Gray,

    Please put me back in your mother's mouth.

    Thanks,
    OO===D

  • ||

    I sucked it up for the things I didn't like about Ron Paul (religiousity, abortion, immigration views - and later, the personality cult)

    How is the personality cult a reason not to like Paul? Do you think he intentionally fostered it? Or is it an "I liked him before it was cool, gumble, grumble" kind of thing?

  • Jerry||

    Oh please Douglas Gray, if so many children died, why didnt they show up in the Gaza hospitals?

  • OO===D||

    "Oh please Douglas Gray, if so many children died, why didnt they show up in the Gaza hospitals?"

    Because the Jews roasted and ate them, silly boy!

  • Geotpf||

    Douglas Gray-Well, Israel is between a rock and a hard place there-or at least they think so. They think their choices are to do nothing, and let rockets fall on their cities, or invade are kill lots of civilians.

    What they need to do is to do the opposite-completely withdraw, and give up all claims to, Gaza (and the West Bank). Even though they physically withdrew from Gaza several years ago, they had a more or less total trade embargo in effect.

    That is, ships and planes carrying anything (including arms) need to be allowed in Gaza's ports and airports. Israel can not control Gaza's airspace or coastline without getting a violent reaction. Israel needs to treat Gaza like any normal country treats any other normal country, and treat Hamas like any other political party in a foreign country.

    Now, the actual physical border between Gaza and Israel is pretty much fixed. In the West Bank, things are actually messier. Israel needs to withdraw from settlements deep inside Gaza, and set a fixed line between Israel and not-Israel. It doesn't have to be exactly the 1967 borders, provided everybody inside the Israel side of the line gets full Israeli citizenship including voting rights.

    Now, after all that, it's quite possible that Hamas/Gaza (I'm treating them as a seperate "country" than the West Bank/Fatah, which is the defacto situation as it stands currently) will continue to fire rockets into Israel. If that happens, Israel would have the right to defend herself, including by invading Gaza, just like the United States would invade Mexico if the Mexican government started to fire rockets from TJ into San Deigo.

    That is, we get three seperate countries-Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. The West Bank would probably be slightly smaller than the current West Bank and Israel slightly larger, but not much. Gaza would be the same size as it is now.

    Now, if Gaza then wants to attack Israel, Israel would have the right and duty to defend herself with whatever means she has available. But maybe, just maybe, the people of Gaza would be willing to become a productive, normal country. But there is absolutely no chance of that happening if there's a permanent air and sea embargo by the Israelis.

  • ||

    My 4yo daughter who may lose her father.

  • BakedPenguin||

    FrBunny - true, it wasn't really his fault, and no, I don't think he fostered it. But I am wary of any politician that has a large band of followers who think he will solve all problems.

    I liked him before he was cool - ha -
    *strikes cool pose* "Yeah, I was at his 1987 concert in Galveston. I still have the t-shirt."

  • ||

    What a brillant justification for ending the drug war. After all the costs in destroyed lifes, broken families, crime, and addicts is nothing compared to the author's ability to get high when he wants.

    Pathetic.

  • MAX HATS||

    Way to not even pretend to have read the article, Thomas

  • BakedPenguin||

    Also, the Paul Family Retirement Fund - er, I mean the Campaign for Liberty shows why any politician should be trusted only to a certain point.

    In a way, it's good that the CfL basically ripped a lot of people off, because it taught a lot of true believers that needed lesson in trust. As I believe the next two years will teach many, many Obamaniacs the same lesson.

  • ||

    "Wait for the old coots to die off?"

    "Ask the 60s generation how well that worked out."

    SugarFree, many of the boomer's P's are, depressingly, still alive. The solution: Kill everybody.

  • ..||

    destroyed lifes, broken families, crime, and addicts

    Yep, those are drug-war casualties all right.

  • ||

    They shouldn't write articles like this on a Friday
    makes me wanna break my new years resolution

  • ||

    Then again I currently in a country where drug possession is legal!

    www.progress.org/archive/drc58.htm

    The down side is that whisky is crap

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...all the costs in destroyed li[v]es, broken families, crime, and addicts...

    ...all occurred while the drug war was in full swing. If you support the War on Drugs, you support all of the above.

  • ||

    No laphoraig on these sunny shores

    :(

  • BakedPenguin||

    MaterialMonkee - good news, indeed. The more countries that move towards decriminialization, the more pressure it puts on the US to stop their idiocy.

    Also, I'm sure RyanAir has some cheap flights from Porto to Inverness or something. Since they're both EU countries, I have to imagine the duty-free liquor limits are rather high.

  • ||

    But I am wary of any politician that has a large band of followers who think he will solve all problems.

    Certainly. It is also entirely accurate if you eliminate the final 14 words. :)

    [And now back to your regularly-scheduled Thomas Jackson beat-down]

  • ||

    I missed the (vigorously hyped) CNBC special on the marijuana trade, last night. For some reason, I find it unlikely they had any substantive examination of the idea of prohibition itself.

    Anybody see it?

  • ||

    @BP

    I only just got back here after Christmas and I'm already out!
    My ability to drink the stuff far exceeds my ability to pay for plane tickets :)

  • some guy||

    I, for one, think that the war on drugs is a success.

    I mean, I hate hippies, and the WOD fucks them over. I hate inner city blacks and the WOD fucks them over. I hate hispanics and the WOD fucks them over. I hate geeky intellectuals and the WOD fucks them over.

    It's like the whole thing was made up so I could sit in front of my teevee, drinking goddawful beer, watching COPS, and laughing like Beavis and Butthead as the idiots are routinely deprived of their rights.

    It's fucking awesome.

  • </||

    Radley,

    You need to post stories like this early before all the brain-damaged dopers wake and bake and start opining about marijuana taxes and hemp powered public transportation.

  • ||

    "I missed the (vigorously hyped) CNBC special on the marijuana trade, last night. For some reason, I find it unlikely they had any substantive examination of the idea of prohibition itself.

    Anybody see it?I missed the (vigorously hyped) CNBC special on the marijuana trade, last night. For some reason, I find it unlikely they had any substantive examination of the idea of prohibition itself.

    Anybody see it?"

    I did, which is strange because I don't recall ever having whatched anything on CNBC.

    Saw a lot of sweet bud in both Oakland and Mendocino County.

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/28281668

  • Blago||

    Fuck Radley Balko. You think if I gave him a fucking Senate seat I'd get anything back? Fuck no, he'd be all like "Ooh, let's end the drug war and have a responsible government!"

    Fuck that.

    That shit doesn't buy Ms Blago a new Benz or put the Blago kids into fucking harvard. Fucking libertarians.

  • ||

    CNBC's poll results (not scientific) are interesting:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/28621704

  • Richard Stands||

    I guess if Saudi's can hijack planes with box cutters, it's no surprise at all that Douglas Gray can hijack a thread by pressing control-V.

    As to the gist of the thread, if cocaine and heroin should be illegal based on addiction, so should alcohol and tobacco products. We should probably add chocolate and sugar as well. Or, we could trust the natural adverse effects of those decisions to help limit the behavior, and actually mean it when we call America the Land of the Free.

    In the same vein (so to speak) of freedom and responsibility, if a user gets to the point where he'd accept treatment for addiction to any of these substances, he should pay for that treatment out of his own pocket (or the pockets of voluntary contributors).

    Government bailouts are ineffective and immoral, whether for personal chemical choices or imprudent and incompetent corporations.

  • ||

    But legalizing drugs sends the wrong message.

    Sure, cut the leg off. Pulling off the bear trap sends the wrong message.

  • Douglas Gray||

    All of my detractors missed the main point. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself, but if their incursion only kills mostly civilians while the terrorist hunker down, (which most military analyists agree happens in such cases), then their defense is not only ineffective in wiping out their enemies, but creates more of them.

    Many experts feel that Israel won a tactical victory but a strategic defeat

  • Ben1||

    Today's US government is a business, one that exercises power as it sees fit, as opposed to where it was authorized to. The drug war makes a huge profit for them, politically and monetarily. They're not going to stop it. They don't give a rats ass if people are killed in the process. Get in their way, and they'll kill you, too.

  • barry payne||

    The drug war's aim is to stop people from getting high.


    if the objective of the drug war was to stop people from getting high, they should've sent Blackwater stormtroopers into the seven houses of Cindy McCain and her accomplice, John McCain, to take down a major drug lord of the beer industry

    likewise for tobacco, for which the nicotine for some is many times more addictive than heroin - it easily qualifies as a high which justifies a doubling of SWAT deployments - they could just claim they stopped the equivalent use of heroin

    in the link below, a detailed study by Benson and Rasmussen in 1996 proved the failure of the '80s drug war; it compares drug crime to other property and violent crime and demonstrated that:

    1) drug crimes do not generally "cause" non-drug crimes - many were committed by the same individuals before drugs were involved;

    2) drug crimes caused massive shifts of resources away from non-drug crimes;

    http://www.independent.org/publications/policy_reports/detail.asp?type=summary&id=2

  • Mike Farmer||

    yes, I would like to read what Balko, or any others, see as the way to go about changing laws if they had the power -- that would be a more productive topic. I believe people should be free to destroy themselves, I just don't want to pay for it when and if it got to that stage. I worked with addicts in a private, for-profit facility and I saw the damage caused by addiction -- alcohol causing the most damage by far -- but I've never been "against" drugs. It just seems like an impossible mission to legalize drugs, but then I've never given a lot of researched thought to the practicalities of legalization. If anyone knows of a well thought-out solution to legalization I'd appreciate the tip -- it's a very interesting problem.

  • duster||

    more trolls than usual in this thread....

    oh, and i think it's pronounced 8==o

    looks better to me anyhow.

  • the unregistered voter||

    If I really believed that the only result of legalizing drugs would be legal drugs, I'd be all for it. But anyone who's watched liberals in action for any length of time can't help but know that, before the ink is even dry on the legislation, there'll be another set of demands for legitimizing, subsidizing and "celebrating" *exactly* the consequences they're now swearing up and down will never ever, cross our hearts and hope to die, uh-uh, no way, will ever materialize. I've learned that before acquiescing to these kind of demands, it's a good idea to ask yourself what you'll be getting for an encore.

    I may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night.

  • ||

    "If anyone knows of a well thought-out solution to legalization I'd appreciate the tip"

    In increasing order of radicalism and my opinion benefit for society

    1)Decriminalization of possession.

    2)It costs more money to lock someone up for a year than put them in on a detox program for a month. For non-violent crime caused by addiction (such as burglary) give people the option of a one month detox program and conditional release based on monthly drug testing

    3)Fully legalize, (as in with taxation, import duties) the unprocessed versions of the harder drugs. Cocoa Leaves and Opium.

    Firstly governments could dictate potencies so highly cut opium could be sold in cigarette form making it not much stronger than a shot of vodka.

    The war on drugs markedly increases the value of the drugs.The legalization would make smuggling financially non-viable cutting out cartels and give employment to workers in poor countries.

  • ||

    Not only are police forces being militarized, but their focus on drugs makes them less and less effective in fighting ordinary crime. If you have to make an arrest, it's easy to go pick up someone breaking a drug law, it's hard to (despite all the TV hype) to solve murders, graft, ...

    Prohibition made the Mafia and gave it untold wealth. America's 'drug war' makes the drug cartels and makes them formidable forces in Afghanistan, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Nigeria .... Our drug policies are helping destabilize much of the world.

    Lastly, whatever happened to individual choice ? Why can't people be allowed to decide what to do with their bodies ? Of the 2,000,000 individuals incarcerated at a huge cost to the taxpayer, the majority is due to drug related charges. As long as there are positive measures, e.g. urinalysis, to check critical individuals, e.g. airline pilots, to be drug-free,-why should we be criminalizing behavior that does not impact society ?

    (n.b. I am a retired military officer and don't use drugs.)

  • ||

    The last two comments should be in the field manual for arguing against pro drug war people.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...there'll be another set of demands for legitimizing, subsidizing and "celebrating" *exactly* the consequences they're now swearing up and down will never ever, cross our hearts and hope to die, uh-uh, no way, will ever materialize.

    Like the current set of demands for legitimizing, subsidizing and "celebrating" *exactly* the consequences that occur with alcohol abuse and tobacco addiction? Because liberals are so much in favor of those, which is why they never pass any laws against them, try to heavily tax those two items, etc.

    Ridiculous.

  • Flores de la Hoz||

    We must help Mexico win its war with the drug cartel or we will have a leftist government running Mexico after the next presidential elections in 2012. Just what we need, another Hugo Chavez encouraging Russians and Chinese military - economic operations in our neighborhood.

    As with the end of prohibition, the decriminalization of marijuana would severely hurt the drug cartels' economic base. It would also allow us to tax its sale big time (100% federal and state tax rate) and direct those funds to our military, homeland security and local law enforcement. We need to think outside the box.

  • ||

    Re: Sage and his caption contest. What I'm gonna do is rinse off with a little water and go on with my life. It's glyphosate, i.e. Roundup, and it's not toxic contrary to what this article states as fact about Plan Colombia. The land is not poisoned....what a load of crap. Dyncorp annually sprays only 15% of the glyphosate applied annually in Colombia. Any farmer or rancher trying to control unwanted grass or weeds is using glyphosate. For anyone who's been to Colombia lately, Plan Colombia is a huge success. The FARC is greatly diminished and slowly but surely the govenment and people of that beautiful country are reclaiming their country from narco-terrorists. I'm wondering how many years ago this article was written. Don't think it's very current.

  • Mike Farmer||

    Thanks MaterialMonkee,

    I trust there is a good way to legalize drugs -- you make good points and I've thought about some of these -- where I get hung up is the hard drugs, but the controlling of quality and strength could alleviate that problem. In reality there are no important differences between alcohol and other drugs, it's just the social acceptance thing and the association of opiates and cocaine with criminal activity which paints it evil. Pot has practically been legalized, except the possession of large amounts for sale -- it makes sense to legalize that -- it's already socially acceptable.

  • Karl_from_Chicago||

    I agree with the article that the drug war is a waste. One thing the article doesn't talk about is the waste of taxpayer money, which is in the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

    This number is difficult to quantify because the spending is spread out among so many governmental organizations. There is the federal DEA and other federal law enforcement officers working on drug crimes. Then there are federal prosecutors and public defenders to litigate the arrests. Then there is the federal prison system. Add in the state and local police working on drug crimes, the state and local prosecutors and public defenders and the state and local jails and prisons.

    Balko stated that there are currently 350,000 people serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. At over $40,000 annually per prisoner, this item alone wastes $14 billion a year. There are probably an equal number of prisoners in for drug related crimes. I believe the total drug war spending is over $100 billion a year.

    In this era of looking for areas of government spending that waste our tax dollars, this should be one of the items where we cut spending, if not eliminate it entirely.

  • Mike Farmer||

    When I say "makes sense", i mean it would make sense to the majority of people and would be easier -- it makes sense to me to legalize any drug -- the criminalization in the beginning created most of the problems. It wasn't that long ago you could buy morphine at the corner pharmacy and Coke was coke.

  • Mike Farmer||

    Karl-from-chicago,

    I'm not sure legalization would reduce the prison costs except as it relates to possession and sales as isolated charges -- there would still be the costs of crimes committed under the influence, but with many of the lesser crimes, the offenders who are suffering from addiction would be better off getting treatment than being thrown in prison. So, there could be significant savings to society, even with under-the-influence-crimes if treatment is privatized and paid for by the offenders or through charitable contributions to facilities. If government runs the treatment solution, it'll wind up costing more than prison.

  • the unregistered voter||

    If government runs the treatment solution, it'll wind up costing more than prison.

    Um, yeah. You hear a lot of talk around here about "unintended consequences" of government actions. Note that that kind of talk is conspicuously absent when it comes to legalizing drugs.

  • ||

    Radley, Are you writing a book on this topic? The world needs to know. As does Jon Stewart's audience.

  • ||

    Great article. Is the cause lost? If 1% of the population in jail and dead civilians don't convince the Feds to let it go, what politician will have the guts to "go soft" on this issue?

  • ||

    My nomination for quote of the day

    "We've been working with the Mexican government for decades at the DEA," said Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Obviously, we ensure that the individuals we work with are vetted."


    From today's AP article Top Mexico Cops Charged With Favoring Drug Cartel

    The War on Drugs Denial of Reality marches on.

  • Federal Dog||

    "The drug war's aim is to stop people from getting high."

    No, its aim is to keep the vast and lucrative drug enforcement industry working. Karl correctly notes the thousands of people whose jobs depend on selective prohibition. Billions of dollars per year in seized assets also depend on selective prohibition.

    I am a broken record, I know, but in the context of selective drug prohibition, so-called law enforcement personnel are the most important part of organized crime.

  • ||

    As a dyed in the wool social conservative, I actually agree that our nations drug criminalization policies rest in the dark ages. I am for treating drugs just like alcohol. As with alcohol the reason many social conservatives are against drug legalization is the unintended consequences of users not being responsible for their actions. Use it wisely in your homes, but don't get behind the wheel of vehicle and risk the lives of others. Don't demand government to get in my pocketbook to pay for rehab or disability as a result of abusing drugs. Once you get government involved with taking money from others expect them to try to legislate against your choices. With freedom comes responsibility. I would like everyone to be able to enjoy as much freedom as possible congruent with a civil society

  • ||

    This isn't a case of collateral damage. This is a case of trespass and murder. The police had no justification for trespassing on his property, and when he moved to defend his land, they murdered him in cold blood. This shouldn't be about the "war on drugs." This article should be about how two murderers killed a man and got to walk away without even a slap on the wrist. If they were worth their weight in coal, the cops should have, as soon as they saw him with a gun, put up their hands, told him they were police, showed their badges, and left. Instead, they pulled their guns and shot a man who was trying to get drug dealers off his property. This is beyond shameful. This is murder, plain and simple.

  • ||

    How to legalize? How about some suggestions?
    1- Open it up to the states - where it belongs - to act as the laboratory of Democracy. That which works, wins.
    2- Take the cuffs off of science. What could alkaloid chemists come up with if they were charged with finding better but safer "recreational drugs"? Drugs with much less harm and no addiction potential? OD proof? Peptide drugs utilizing the bodies own chemicals? Self-sating drugs, no hang-over,..think about it. What other possibilities arise once the thumb comes out of the national arse?
    3- Fully fund research into what addiction really is and what the nature of mankind's urge for a buzz actually is. Currently, we really have no idea. In this, we make progress towards a better understanding of the nature of man.
    4- Communicate to the people that we must progress beyond this myopic orthodoxy and that there will be sacrifices at first but huge dividends later.
    5- Target the financial benefits. Drug agriculture could be restricted to small family farms. Likewise, the new jobs created could be targeted.

    Just a few ideas I had. I'd eagerly read others.

  • ||

    The DEA loves to destroy physicians. They are easy and defenseless targets. They don't carry weapons and they don't shoot back.

    Doctors (and not just pain specialists) are out there doing a very difficult job, trying to relieve suffering, and are having their careers RUINED for doing so. This is not collateral damage, it is murder. Some physicians, treated this way, have even committed suicide. Law enforcement, in general, doesn't know a thing about prescription-type drugs, i.e. how they work, who needs them, proper dosing, etc.

  • De-coder ring||

    How to legalize? How about some suggestions?

    Restore full property rights to all chemicals.No restrictions other than those imposed by the seller and treat mis-labeling as fraud(with no requirement to label at all).

  • ||

    I totally agree with the author of this article. The drug war is a police war on the US population.

    Now thing about this. Let's say we legalize all drugs (it has to be all or the war continues). Liberals will then have the excuse to use the legalizations of drugs to make drug users victims of big drugs. Since they can not work, socialists will blame society for their inability to survive without crime.

    We will have to have a program of free stuff to anyone who chooses to be an addict. Hence there will be an incentive for addicts to flourish. Drug all day in government provided housing and subsistence.

    Think about the long term effects as it is in Europe. Socialists here will expand the addicted population with incentives. IT WILL HAPPEN!

  • Ben1||


    Great article. Is the cause lost? If 1% of the population in jail and dead civilians don't convince the Feds to let it go, what politician will have the guts to "go soft" on this issue?



    Ah. You're beginning to understand. To the above, you also need to add:

    o the war gets them re-elected
    o the war earns them money
    o the war earns them private sector employment
    o the war earns them under-the-radar gifts
    o the war appeals to the 50% below the IQ mean
    o the war appeals to many over the mean
    o the alcohol lobby doesn't want it legalized
    o the chemical lobby also
    o the preachers use it as a talking point
    o the mommy government types want "safety"

    ...then you begin to actually get the picture. Not going to happen. This forum is representative of such a small portion of the population that no matter what is written here, you can't presume that the rest of the folks will see the logic in it, presuming, of course, that there is some (there are some pretty dumb posts here from time to time.)

    Sure, we can come up with rational solutions. The problem is, neither the government or the drug war are rational venues and will not accept rational solutions.

    Nothing gets accomplished here (or in the magazine) outside of sharing observations. Rational thinkers are a tiny, tiny minority of the population.

    The best thing you can do with regard to recreational drugs is not use them. Otherwise, you can expect to experience the war first hand. The government has declared illegal recreational drug users the enemy. Don't be that person. Don't even look like that person. Not unless you are ready to sacrifice your livelihood, your family, and your reputation for whatever you think it is you will gain (which, frankly, will be nothing.)

  • Sharky||

    Corporate America will never willingly allow the legalization of marijuana because they need a compliant populace, not a lethargic one.

    Beer, t.v. and religion keep the happy masses filing back in to work on Monday mornings, instead of rioting in the streets.

    Corporate America can't risk a contemplative citizenry which might ponder, "Well, if I'm working like a dog and falling farther and farther behind, why am I working so hard?"

    You gotta keep 'em stimulated.

    I don't believe "The best thing you can do with regard to recreational drugs is not use them." I think it's time to stand up and say yes, I do.
    Count your friends who don't take drugs of some kind. Coffee, tea, aspirin, vitamins, food additives, pain relievers, sleep inducers, energy boosters, bulk providers, sex cures, weight cures, memory cures, children's medicine, pet medicines, on your t.v. and in your magazines and books and movies.

    Cannibis is hard to regulate, hard to tax, and easy to grow in your back yard. If you can't make it a product, make it a crime. Then crime control becomes your product.

    I'd rather be in a roomful of stoners than a roomful of drunks, most days.

    Stand up and say, "Yes, I do."

  • ||

    Stand up and say, "Yes, I do."

    Shall I?

    "I am Sparticus"

    Thank you, thank you.

  • ||

    I would very much like to see the US Government legalize all drugs, then control the manufacturing, distribution and sales, keeping all of the profits. Let the drug trade be the one area in which the Federal Government actually runs a business and keeps the profits. The annual income would be staggering. The profits could be earmarked to pay off the stimulus package, and after that could be used to reduce income taxes, etc. Gang affiliation would decrease. Crime would decrease. Mexican Drug Cartels would be over.

  • Ben1||

    OK, Lester, fine.

    How are you going to arrange things so that you can see this happen?

    [crickets chirp for a while]

    ...that's the problem, you see. You're not going to see it happen. You can't change things. The government doesn't give a hoot what you think. However, they will shoot you, and your family, if you get in their way. Or jail you and yours. Or both.

    So, you going to get in their way?

    No, I didn't think so.

  • ||

    All of us should know by now that the truth of things matters not a whit in this through the looking glass world we inhabit. There is no answer. Things will never get better and sanity will begin to get a foothold. We are, in fact, wildebeasts. You all know the definition of insanity. Humans are insane.

  • ||

    Interesting read, a lot of the sources are really old and outdated, especially in Latin America where things seem to have calmed down a lot. The author probably needs to do some more research using newer materials.

  • ||

    "I had discovered that it didn't make any difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate's sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you'd met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had dropped out of school and now spent most of their time looking for an excuse to brawl. ... You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection."

    Barrack H. Obama, President of the United States of America

  • Jon||

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  • New Moses||

    This is article is on point with this strange chapter of history we live in. The educated and concious of our society know that Marijuana is most likely the only solution to solve human problems like disease and poverty yet it is made illegal for almost the last 100 years.

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