Drug War Revisited

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A few issues back, we explained "Why the States Are Broke."

One possible benefit of endemic fiscal crisis is spelled out in this story that originally appeared in The New York Times:

In Washington, the first state in the country to pass a stringent "three strikes" law by popular initiative a decade ago, a bipartisan group of legislators passed several laws this year reversing some of their more punitive statutes.

One law shortened sentences for drug offenders and set up money for drug treatment. Another increased the time inmates convicted of drug and property crimes could earn to get out of prison early. Another eliminated parole supervision for low-risk inmates after their release.

Taken together, these laws "represent a real turning point," said Joseph Lehman, the secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, who was a major supporter of the legislative changes. "You have to look at the people who are behind these laws," Mr. Lehman said. "They are not all advocates of a liberal philosophy."

Read the whole story here.

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  1. Senator Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas’ own answer to “Soccer Mommie Dearest” Feinstein, was recently bemoaning the fact that the feds didn’t give Arkansas enough $$ for meth lab clean-ups.

    As far as I know, the states are not required to enforce federal law with their own money and personnel. So instead of whining for more money so our own cops could be good, cooperative, little junior jackboots at federal expense, why not just withdraw from all the intergovernmental task forces and let the feds do it all at their own expense?

    That’s one thing about the state legalization movements that scares the shit out of the feds. Currently, the majority of drug war expenditures are for marijuana prohibition, and the bulk of the work on the ground is done with state and local resources through the judicial district task forces. So every state that legalizes pot is depriving the drug war of most of its enforcement capability in that state, regardless of whether it’s still technically a federal crime.

  2. Kevin-

    At the risk of getting into an endless federalism debate, when you say:

    As far as I know, the states are not required to enforce federal law with their own money and personnel.

    I wonder what would happen if I handed a local cop a counterfeit $20. Or if I kidnapped somebody and took him/her across state lines. Or if a cop stopped me for reckless driving and noticed on my passenger seat a big folder marked “Top Secret–National Security” with a little post-it note saying “Forward to Tehran.”

    I have a hunch he’d arrest me. Sure, I’d be sent to federal custody fairly quickly, so there wouldn’t be a huge committment of state or local resources. But I’m pretty sure the local cop would still enforce the federal law.

    I think the real issue is not whether state and local cops are obligated to enforce federal law, it’s whether they have to go out of their way to do it. They still have to arrest people for violations of federal law if they happen to come across an offender, and they will presumably respond to requests for help on federal investigations, but I don’t think the local cops are obligated to have detectives doing, say, counterfeit 24/7 in the same way that they have detectives who specialize in murder, theft, etc.

  3. fyodor,

    culturally ingrained=I would if I could.

    Kevin, meth labs are some nasty, dangerous places. You’d be better off living near shuttered PCB plant. Cleaning them up isn’t so much Drug War as public safety. Poisonous, explosive, corrosive, you name it.

  4. Does this mean that the drug war will wax and wane with every business cycle? As times get tough, we will move towards liberalization, but when coffers are flush we can afford the luxury of locking up our friendly neiborhood narcotics peddler?

    This is insanity. Choosing between drug crusades and economic hardship is like choosing between Bush and Gore. No human should be forced to make such a decision.

  5. Well I think the drug war is complete crap, as noted on many of my web sites.

    Stopping the war, or even giving in to marijuana would have to cause a change that is incomprehensible to many leaders.

    Once one glances at it, how different is todays war than prohibition was? We hide how screwed up that was.

    As long as we REFUSE to learn from history some of our best and brightest will lose their lives for a lack of adherance to command and control fear driven leadership.

    Drugs are rarely as damaging as those laws we place upon them. In most instances people do not hurt themselves with drugs unless they want to.

    Its easier to overdose with less shame than it is to hang yourself.

  6. “Quick, we must reduce these sentences before Rush goes to trial!”

  7. in lieu of sentencing i think the gov’t should strike a deal with rush and turn him into a travelling art installation. 24 hours of cutups of his old shows about drug use, abuse, hedonism and other evils of the modern world played at him in a clear prison cell made of glass. visitors will be invited to throw pill-shaped bits of plastic at him. three years or so of this should clear him for moving (and eating) all those pills of pills.

    we’ll call it “be careful what you wish for.”

  8. uh, that should be “piles of pills” though if his addiction was as bad as he said it was, pills of pills may not be too far off the mark.

  9. Not just Alcohol Prohibition, Aaron. As far as I have been able to discover, no government in the history of the world has successfully reduced sales on a black market by interdicting supply. And the cure has always been worse than the disease.

    The lessons of history…

  10. Larry —

    “Supply interdiction” prohibition has often worked in the short term, ranging from months in the case of alcohol prohibition to years in the case of economic sanctions and embargoes to decades in the case of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which probably worked better because supply was the main driver of demand: If you neighbor has supply, you have demand). In the time-scales of the politicians who enact prohibitory measures, prohibition frequently does work.

    If electorates had the will to hold politicians accountable for long-term as well as short-term consequences of their actions, perhaps things would be different. But the disappointing fact is that from a political standpoint, no matter how useless or dire the eventual outcome, prohibition works well enough.

    For the first generation of prohibitory politicians, promises of a prohibitory utopia get them elected. For the second generation of prohibitory politicians, the short-lived success of prohibition get them elected. For the third and further generations, the kickbacks and corrupt institutions that prohibition engenders are enough to not merely get them elected but make their cronies very, very rich.
    –G

  11. piles “of” or “from” the pills?

    “Legalize it.”

    “Legalize Rush.”

  12. What I’ll never understand is how so many people miss the parallels between drug prohibition and alcohol prohibition. Every single kid in elementary school (even people I know who went to public elementary schools, so no need to get off on that tangent) learns that alcohol prohibition failed to stop alcohol use but fueled a lucrative black market. Every single kid learns that it was a failure, a “cure” worse than the disease, and that alcohol abuse is now considered a matter of health and personal responsibility, not a crime.

    How is it that so few people make the connection to the current prohibition?

  13. because drugs are evil and deeeestroy souls. alcohol is sold in bars and my dad drinks it.

    half the problems would be out of the way if we could move from turning inanimate objects into the heralds of satan’s army and maybe drop some of the theological language. even burroughs, who was anti-religious to put it lightly, occasionally lapsed into judeo-christian imagery to describe drug addiction. damn host culture infects everything.

    frenk – i had this image of rush pushing all these pills together into one falafel-sized ball of downers – a pill of pills. sort of like the king of beers. which isn’t as funny as “rush in prison trying to explain why he wanted to get tough on crime” but you get what you pay for. i don’t necessarily think rush belongs in jail for what he did but since he was so goddamn adamant about punishing others it would be interesting to see if he would have a change of heart after serving a few years for buying thousands of dollars worth of illegal prescription drugs.

  14. thoreau,

    I had a friend who responded to that argument with some stuff about how alcohol was so much more ingrained (ha-ha, no pun intended, but I’ll keep it!) in our society. Never underestimate the power of rationalization!

  15. -White people make money from alcohol & tobacco.

    -Brown people make money from illegal drugs.

    Without drug laws, how are we going to be able to incarcerate millions of young people who have committed the crime of Being Born With Excessive Melanin?

  16. “What I’ll never understand is how so many people miss the parallels between drug prohibition and alcohol prohibition.”

    I once forced myself to watch that moron Bill O’Reily’s show when he had a LP reprentive “discussing” (In Mr. O’Reilly’s world, a discussion is screaming and interupting your opponents) the Government’s marajuna=terrorism ads. He immediately open up with (and I’m paraphrasing):

    “Why do you libertarians always compare the drug war with alcohol prohibition?”

    Because it’s the text-book-case scenario of what happens when you try to use government to control morality? If Bill is soooo concerned about the “destructive” effects of various substances he should look no further than druken drivers and cirosis of the liver and demand we dig up Elliot Ness and the 18th Amendment.

    Then again, I do believe that O’Reilly inferred in another debate on drug policy that he wouldn’t oppose a new ban on alcohol either.

  17. At the time it was put up for a vote, Washington State’s “Three Strikes” law was sold to the public as applying to VIOLENT offences ONLY, which is why most people voted for it. How it wound up including drug offenders is beyond me, unless pot dealers were deemed guilty of “violence” through association.

  18. “Why do you libertarians always compare the drug war with alcohol prohibition?”

    Ha-ha! How about: why not?

  19. Check that. How about: because we can!

  20. Or “Why do you authoritarians refuse to learn from history?”

  21. Yah, joe….

    It’s hard to believe that some redneck can blow up his trailer using nothing but Sudafed and starting fluid, but it happens at least twice a year around here.

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