Drug Policy

Peeing on the DEA's Birthday Parade

|

Yesterday the Drug Enforcement Administration turned 35, which is old enough to realize things are not working out quite the way you expected. The DEA covers its midlife crisis with celebratory bluster:

At its outset, the DEA had 1,470 Special Agents, a budget of less than $75 million, and a presence in 31 countries. Today, the DEA has 5,235 Special Agents, a budget of more than $2.4 billion and 87 foreign offices in 63 countries.

As the careful reader will notice, those are what economists call "inputs." How has the "all-out global war on the drug menace" declared by Richard Nixon been going in terms of outputs? The DEA brags about "destroying powerful drug organizations," but that is not an end in itself, especially since they tend to be replaced by other drug organizations. Isn't the ultimate goal of drug law enforcement to, you know, reduce drug use? The Monitoring the Future Study, a survey with data going back to the mid-1970s, suggests that all the staffing and spending and destroying has not amounted to much by that measure:

Percentage of 12th-graders who reported using marijuana in the previous year

1975: 40

2007: 31.7

Percentage of 12th-graders who reported using cocaine in the previous year

1975: 5.6

2007: 5.2

Percentage of 12th-graders who reported using heroin in the previous year

1975: 1

2007: 0.9

The cocaine and heroin numbers show essentially no change since the DEA got to work. Past-year marijuana use among high school seniors (or at least the willingness to report it) is down significantly, by about one-fifth. (That number peaked at 50.8 percent in 1979.) But remember: According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the marijuana teenagers were smoking back then was, by and large, not even strong enough to get them high, whereas today's marijuana is so strong that it's a different, far more dangerous drug. From the DEA's perspective, a shift from large numbers smoking mostly inert material to smaller numbers smoking one-hit-is-plenty superweed can hardly be counted as a success.

[Thanks to Terry Michael for the tip.]  

Advertisement

NEXT: Rush Limbaugh, Francophile

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wouldn’t a full analysis of the DEA’s “outputs” include a statistical breakdown of the economic, social, demographic, and cultural effects of running 30% of some urban minority male populations through the criminal justice system? Isn’t that one of the outputs?

    If the day Nixon made that speech, every member of Congress had known that we would essentially destroy our cities, create an unemployable underclass, and exclude up to 30% of African American men from the economic, social and political life of the nation, in order to reduce marijuana use by 20%, would they still have voted for this? If you could offer urban community leaders in 1973 the choice between a future where their worst fears about drug use were realized, and the future we actually got, which would be worse and which do you think they would have chosen?

  2. Stricter laws, bigger budget, more agents equals no discernable impact. Government efficiency at it’s best.

  3. Fluffy,

    Yes they would and still do vote for that shit.

  4. Careful. All this piss is bound to be tested.

  5. Happy Birthday, DEA.
    I’ll go blow a doobie to commemorate the event.

  6. Let’s compare drug hysteria to hysteria over global warming.
    Is drug hysteria beginning to wane as global warming hysteria begins to wax?
    Whatever the symptoms of our mass hypochondria, Dr. Government has the placebo, doncha know?
    35 or 40 years from, after gummint has been valiantly fighting global warning for about that long, there will be a blog entry exactly like this.

  7. From the DEA website:

    The Drug Enforcement Administration was created 35 years ago…

    Then later in the same link:

    To mark the anniversary…a lecture series highlighting the four decades of accomplishments for the agency.

    Man, what are they smoking?

  8. So what we can conclude is that the DEA needs more agents and a bigger budget.

  9. If the day Nixon made that speech, every member of Congress had known that we would essentially destroy our cities, create an unemployable underclass, and exclude up to 30% of African American men from the economic, social and political life of the nation, in order to reduce marijuana use by 20%, would they still have voted for this?

    Are you kidding?

    OF COURSE they would!

  10. JsubD,

    You aren’t supposed to blow…Inhaling is more effective at getting the full effect from the burning weed in the doobie, brother.

    JSullum seems to be cherry picking his outcome measures again.

    Why are we only looking at 12th graders?
    Is that the stated goal, to reduce drug use among 12th graders? What is the gold-standard measure of progress?

    I realize I am picking nits here, but…

    Lazy reporting is just, well, lazy.

    http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/druguse/

    http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/trends.htm#New

    When you look at more numbers, of course, things get pretty blurry.

    One of the reasons both the JS’s of the world and the DEA can take whatever position they want on the effectiveness question.

    They are all, however, talking out their asses.

    The numbers don’t matter. The problems that drugs create (and they do create problems) do not warrant a law enforcement response. There is no need to cherry pick data and argue over questionable studies on both sides…the war on drugs is ridiculous no matter the outcomes.

  11. Exhibit A that drug war hysteria is waning is an editorial in the NYT today I just read saying the US is not winning the war on drugs. (The NYT is usually the last to know what’s going down. But you knew that.)

    Global Warming hysteria here we come!

    35-40 years from now, where will we be?
    Well, for one thing Al Gore will be dead.
    Recall Timothy Leary died when drug hysteria was waning.

    The beat goes on.
    Ruthless

  12. Obviously we need to pee our tax dollars away on global warming rather than warring on drugs.

    Our gummint runs on FloMax.

  13. If you could offer urban community leaders in 1973 the choice between a future where their worst fears about drug use were realized, and the future we actually got, which would be worse and which do you think they would have chosen?

    Yes. It isn’t about the future. It’s about control. People who become politicians desire nothing more than having power over others. The future–as we see in law after law and congressional vote after vote–means nothing next to power right now. Ethanol is a perfect example, happening right now.

    Politicians will fall over themselves to sacrifice the future if it increases their power now.

  14. Somewhat related, but a bit of a threadjack:

    In the good ol’ Frozen North, we have just had the Great Tomato Bust.

  15. “35 or 40 years from, after gummint has been valiantly fighting global warning for about that long, there will be a blog entry exactly like this.”

    Not if global warming is a hoax. In that case, 35 years from now the planet will be just slightly warmer, if that, as predicted by the “deniers,” and the global warming mavens will claim victory over how their policies have saved the world.

  16. Yes, but think of all the folks the DEA has arrested, assaulted, and killed during that time. Now that’s progress!

  17. The great thing about conservatives is that they can decry the government funded “science” behind global warming because it’s biased, and then in the next breath they’re able to decry pot-smokers because all this government funded “science” “proves” they’re obviously doing something highly dangerous. Meanwhile, I sit here amazed that they can call billions of wasted dollars a good thing.
    JMR

  18. What a fucking waste.

  19. Right on the heels of the 35th annaversary of the All Volunteer Military.

    Seems 1973 was not all bad. Just almost all bad.

  20. The numbers don’t matter. The problems that drugs create (and they do create problems) do not warrant a law enforcement response. There is no need to cherry pick data and argue over questionable studies on both sides…the war on drugs is ridiculous no matter the outcomes.

  21. At its outset, the DEA had 1,470 Special Agents, a budget of less than $75 million, and a presence in 31 countries. Today, the DEA has 5,235 Special Agents, a budget of more than $2.4 billion and 87 foreign offices in 63 countries.

    This is undeniably a huge success. The only meaningful measure of a government program is budget growth- a successful government program is one which gets lots of money. What they do with that money is completely lrrelevant.

  22. Maybe they should combine the DEA and ATF, and combat their image problems together.

    I suppose they could call it the DEAATF.

  23. You guys are so negative. According to these numbers, heroin and cocaine use among 12th graders will be non-existent in only 315 years. Obviously, the DEA is deterring drug use.

  24. The penalities for usage are a lot higher today than in ’75. Wouldn’t that tend to make the 2007 numbers rather meaningless one way or the other?

    And where are the Ritalin comparisons?

    Smoke-free buildings probably have more to do with pot smoking reportedly being down than anything else. Teachers smoked like crazy in my high school, and the kids smoked like crazy in the bathroom. Today, the smoke alarms go apeshit so you can’t smoke ANYTHING. And once you’re out of school for the day, the need to smoke is reduced substantially.

  25. “At its outset, the DEA had 1,470 Special Agents, a budget of less than $75 million, and a presence in 31 countries. Today, the DEA has 5,235 Special Agents, a budget of more than $2.4 billion and 87 foreign offices in 63 countries.”

    DEA fits the definition of insanity, except we can’t medicate them or take away their credit card.

  26. The goal of the drug war was never to eliminate drug trafficking. As any sociology professor will tell you “crime” is functional: without people to arrest the DEA lose their jobs and America has to learn new ways to bully people into submission. When the alcohol prohibition failed prohibitionists lobbied to have marijuana criminalized so they would still collect paychecks for shooting innocent people; if the drug war ends those fucks are out.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.