The Drug War Graph Is Embarrassing. So Is Believing Obama's Promises of Reform.

The Washington PostThe Washington PostWashington Post blogger Harold Pollack presents what he calls "the most embarrassing graph in American policy," showing that the mass incaraceration of drug offenders since the early 1980s has been accompanied by declines in the retail prices of cocaine and heroin. That's embarrassing because drug law enforcement aims to reduce consumption of illegal drugs by increasing the risk and cost of supplying them, an effort that if successful should be reflected in rising retail prices. Instead we have seen just the opposite during the last few decades as the number of drug offenders behind bars has increased dramatically, peaking at 562,000 in 2007.

The ineffectiveness of supply-control measures is rooted in the economics of the black market. Illegal drugs acquire most of their value after arriving in the United States. Attempts to destroy drug crops or intercept shipments on their way to the U.S. therefore do not cost traffickers much and do not have much of an impact on retail prices. Nor does busting drug dealers in the U.S. and seizing the relatively small quantities they are apt to be holding. Both the dealers and the drugs are easily replaced. And to the extent that police succeed over the short term in raising prices by raising the risks involved in selling drugs, they also raise the returns from the business, attracting new participants and boosting the supply. A study cited by Pollack suggests how these dynamics conspire to frustrate drug warriors: 

Examining a period when cocaine prices were actually plummeting, these authors estimated that a 15-fold increase in the number of incarcerated drug offenders raised street cocaine prices in the range of 5 percent to 15 percent, compared with what otherwise would have been the case. That's not much.

Joining an assortment of drug-war critics who accept at face value the current president's avowed commitment to changing course, Pollack claims "drug policy has improved during the Obama years." You know his case is weak when you see that his first reason for believing this is that "the president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations." Obama may be allowing thousands of federal drug offenders whose sentences he admits are unjust to languish in prison, but at least he does not call the crackdown that put them there a "war." His actual policy regarding medical marijuana may be more aggressively intolerant than his predecessor's, despite promises to the contrary, but at least his rhetoric is milder. He may defend marijuana's rationally indefensible Schedule I status, but at least he claims to be doing so in the name of science.

Pollack also notes that "the number of incarcerated drug offenders has declined for the first time in decades." But according to the figures displayed in the graph, the number of drug offenders behind bars (in prisons and jails) peaked in 2007, two years before Obama took office. Furthermore, state prisons account for most incarcerated drug offenders. The number of drug offenders in federal prison increased from 95,205 in 2009 to 97,472 in 2010 before falling to 94,600 in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. Yay?

Finally, Pollack praises Obama for expanding access to drug treatment through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Thus does Obama gain credibility as a drug policy reformer by taking a page from Richard Nixon's playbook.

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  • Sevo||

    "Obama gain credibility as a drug policy reformer by taking a page from Richard Nixon's playbook."
    Why, shithead was just making the same claim as regards the IRS in an earlier thread! Yep, RMNII now in office,

  • Aresen||

    I do not know what a counterfactual history of a putative McCain administration record would look like in the WoD, but Obama has done far less than he could.

  • ||

    Plus he give such good speeches!

  • Dan Givens||

    You hear this a lot on these threads but it can't be stressed enough, if you have had enough of this pointless "war on (some) drugs", then think JURY NULLIFICATION! If you are ever on a jury that deals with a drug charge, nullify....if you know a family member is going to be on a jury, give them the nullification speech....if you know of a friend or a friend of a friend that is going to be on a jury, be sure that they know about JURY NULLIFICATION!

  • Sevo||

    Pretty sure you're not going to get on a drug-case jury if you even hint that you're familiar with nullification.

  • Rich||

    "Oh, 'NULLification'! I thought you had asked if I were familiar with 'MUMMification'. May we proceed?

  • Malcolm Kyle||

    * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.

    * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention, ether before or after taking your seat on a jury.

    * You are also not required to give a reason to your fellow jurors on your position when voting—simply state that you find the accused not guilty.

    * Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. It is of no consequence If the Judge or the other jurors disapprove; there is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

    We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for: Please Vote To Acquit!

  • ||

    That, and you can't try a husband and wife for the same crime.

  • ||

    +1 FakeBlock

  • Hyperion||

    Have had several folks here tell me that if I get called for jury duty on a drug related trial, that I had better not even think about nullification, or else.

    No way I am voting to convict anyone accused of any drug related crime, ever. That includes selling.

  • Rich||

    "drug policy has improved during the Obama years" [because] "the president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations."

    Similarly, foreign policy has improved during the Obama years because the president and his advisers have largely abandoned the harsh shock-and-awe rhetoric of previous administrations.

  • DJF||

    Yes, now they just bomb whoever they want and don't talk about it very loudly.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Does anybody seriously believe the President has any intention whatsoever in even dialing back the drug war, much less ending it?

  • Hyperion||

    Butt Plug believes it, but I doubt any non-trolls do.

  • Rich||

    How about ... INTERCEPTING it?

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    I get it!

  • Hyperion||

    Looks like the drug war is working!

    I mean, isn't the goal to lock up as many people as possible, and steal stuff for the government to auction off(forgot that statistic on chart, or would have been even more impressive).

    I mean, let's face it, if we can't lock up these dangerous drug crazies, we're going to have to take them out with drones... and collateral damage you know. Now tell me which you would prefer? Do you want our leaders to have to blow up half a neighborhood every time someone lights up a dangerous marijuana cigarette, for the children?

  • Jerryskids||

    I think the drug war must be working - using the same timeframe as the graph, the DEA has seen its' employees go from 2775 to 9906 and its' budget go from $65 million to $2.02 billion. Obviously the agency wouldn't be growing so well if it weren't successful, right?

  • Sevo||

    "Obviously the agency wouldn't be growing so well if it weren't successful, right?"
    So union hiring hall with congressional approval?

  • Robert||

    They could say prices are down because people don't want as much of those drugs now. I could see that claim seriously being made, and maybe it's right.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The graph probably wouldn't be so embarrassing if it had alt-text. Come on! We're trying to win a best Weblog around here.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Your pathetic attachment to alt-text has not produced the location of the rebel base.

  • WomSom||

    Thats exactly what I am talking about man. WOw.

    www.GetYourAnon.tk

  • Buzzby||

    What's most amazing to me is that with the tremendous decrease in the price of addictive illegal drugs, the addiction rate has remained steady at 1.5% over the last four decades. If the policy is raise drug prices and reduce use through interdicting supplies and arresting dealers, the result has been exactly the opposite. It seems that 1.5% of the population is inclined towards drug addiction and will follow that path despite increases or decreases in supply or cost. How many of us are going to run out and become heroin addicts because heroin is cheap and readily available? Nobody, apparently.

  • Malcolm Kyle||

    Fight Prohibition with Jury Nullification!

    When called for jury duty on a case concerning a drug violation with no overt act of violence, do not convict! If the offender is non-violent, do not send them to prison! Another person in a federal or state prison for drugs is not going to make society any better or our families any safer, in fact, it WILL do the exact opposite.

    * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.

    * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention, ether before or after taking your seat on a jury.

    * You are also not required to give a reason to your fellow jurors on your position when voting—simply state that you find the accused not guilty.

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