Prohibition = Violence

The Drug War points the finger-but has three more pointing back at itself.


The low, dishonest—and expensive—Drug War advertising campaign being waged by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in all the major newspapers, television networks, and leading magazines is—let's be as honest as they are not—full of crap. The most horrific lie the campaign peddles is the tortured claim that recreational drug users in America are supporting terrorism.

Sure, sure, some terrorist groups do in fact make money from protecting drug kingpins or even growing and refining drugs themselves. But there's one vital precondition for their doing so—a precondition that's completely ignored by Drug Czar John Walters and his crew of merry misleaders at ONDCP. And that is the futile Drug War itself. No war, no drug producers in need of protection by terrorists, guerrillas, thugs, gangbangers, or anybody else.

ONDCP pleads with parents to "help the kids you know make the connection between this risky drug [marijuana] and acts of violence committed against innocent people where you live and around the world." Drugs and violence. They go together like a horse and carriage, right? But ONDCP doesn't want you to ask the next question: why? Let's consider a bit of history. Murder rates appear to rise and fall in the United States in very telling lockstep with drug and alcohol prohibitions over the course of the 20th century.

Hillsdale economist Kirby Cundiff, in a study for the Independent Institute, compared homicide rates and changes in substance control policy in the United States and concluded, "The best theory of the primary cause of violent crime in the United States is a violent black market caused by the War on Drugs today, and Prohibition in the 1920s."

In 1900, between 2 percent and 5 percent of the entire adult population of the United States were addicted to drugs. The average drug user was a rural middle-aged white woman who used morphine-based patent medicines. The murder rate in 1900 was 1.2 per 100,000 people. But that all changed as America went through one of its periodic bouts of Puritanism.

In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Act that essentially banned the non-medical sale of opiates and cocaine derivatives. The murder rate the year after was 5.9 per 100,000. Then came the 18th Amendment in 1920, outlawing the sale of all alcoholic beverages. In 1921, the murder rate in America jumped to 8.1 per 100,000. Of course, the 1920s were the era of gangsters and bootleggers.

In 1933, America came back to its senses, or at least decided that the millions of unemployed during the Depression might need a good stiff drink now and then, and passed the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition. The murder rate that year reached 9.7 per 100,000. After Prohibition, the murder rate began to drift downward, dropping to 4.5 per 100,000 in 1958. Meanwhile, organized crime, jumpstarted by black markets for booze, had expanded their businesses into other black markets like gambling and prostitution, and, of course, still-banned drugs like opiates, cocaine, and marijuana.

By 1970, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, the murder rate had risen back to 8.3 per 100,000. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that drugs were the "No. 1 Public Enemy" and announced the beginning of a new "War on Drugs." In 1973, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was established. As the Drug War heated up, the murder rate reached an all-time high of 10.7 per 100,000 in 1980.

The war continued and President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, which mandated harsher penalties for drug possession and drug trafficking. As tens of billions of dollars were poured into the War on Drugs by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the murder rate hovered between 8.5 and 10.5 for the next 15 years. The murder rate began dropping in the mid-1990s and is now at levels last seen in the mid-1960s. Is the Drug War finally working at cutting that violence that we are assured is commensurate with drug use?

Well, in a way, but not the way the feds' drugs=violence equation implies. Most likely it is because the United States now has nearly 2 million people in jail or prison. It would have to be a pretty poor policing operation if, in the course of sweeping up some 1.5 million people annually for drug use, that those offenders most likely to act violently did not end up incarcerated.

Never mind that it is the idiocies surrounding the drug war that encourages some people to become violent in the first place. Even if putting hundreds of thousands of people behind bars does lower violent crime rates, legalization would get the same results—and far more cheaply in both human and monetary costs. Violent crime, terrorism, and the Drug War go hand in hand. That's one truth that Drug Czar John Walters and the ONDCP do not want you hear.