Drug War

Trump, Slayer of Pushers

If drug dealers have blood on their hands, so do drug warriors.

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The president wants to kill drug dealers, which he thinks would be a legal, moral, and effective way to prevent opioid-related deaths. He is wrong on all three counts.

"Some countries have a very, very tough penalty—the ultimate penalty—and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do," Donald Trump said during a White House summit on opioid abuse last Thursday. The remark was consistent with reports of private conversations in which Trump has said drug dealers deserve the death penalty.

Federal law already authorizes execution for certain drug traffickers. Offenders subject to "the ultimate penalty" include leaders of criminal enterprises that sell 60,000 kilograms of marijuana, 60 kilograms of heroin, 17 kilograms of crack cocaine, or 600 grams of LSD.

That provision has been on the books since 1994, but it has never been carried out. It probably never will, since it seems to be unconstitutional under a 2008 decision in which the Supreme Court said the Eighth Amendment requires that the death penalty be reserved for "crimes that take the life of the victim."

Trump thinks drug dealing falls into that category. "We have pushers and drugs dealers [who] are killing hundreds and hundreds of people," he said on Thursday. "If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people, and nothing happens to them."

That way of characterizing the situation is rather misleading, since drugs do not fly up the noses or flow into the veins of anyone without assistance. People who choose to take drugs surely bear some responsibility for what happens afterward, especially if they combine different substances, as people who die from drug poisoning typically do.

There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging psychoactive substances for money, even if some of your customers die after consuming them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which counted about 15,500 heroin-related deaths in 2016, attributes some 88,000 deaths each year to alcohol and 480,000 to cigarettes. If heroin dealers are murderers, what about bartenders and tobacconists?

There is one important way in which illegal drugs differ from legal ones: Their composition and potency are much harder to predict. A vodka buyer knows he is getting a beverage with an alcoholic strength of 40 percent, while a heroin buyer has no idea what he is getting, which makes consuming it much riskier.

That uncertainty has been magnified in recent years by the increased use of fentanyl as a heroin adulterant and substitute. Since fentanyl is much stronger than heroin, it makes potency even more variable, multiplying the chances of lethal error.

You might think that a drug dealer who passes fentanyl off as heroin, leading to a fatal overdose, is guilty of something akin to negligent manslaughter. But when it comes to the content of the powder they are selling, dealers may be just as much in the dark as their customers.

Treating such deaths as homicides is not only unjust; it may have the perverse effect of making opioid-related fatalities more likely. The people who face prosecution tend to be relatives, friends, and acquaintances—the same people who are best positioned to seek medical assistance in the event of an overdose but who might be deterred by the possibility of a homicide charge should rescue attempts fail.

As that example illustrates, the government's role in all of this is usually to make drug use deadlier. Prohibition created a black market in which purity and potency are inconsistent. Drug warriors drove nonmedical users of prescription opioids into that market by cracking down on pain pills and made the illicit substitutes more dangerous by trying to cut off the heroin supply, which fostered the proliferation of fentanyl.

If drug dealers have blood on their hands, so does anyone who supports the policies that created this situation, starting with the president.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Too bad AddictionMyth got ‘slayed’. He would really have appreciated this article. Might even had offered some pithy remarks.

  2. Not to be too argumentative, but it is insane to blame the government for what dealers are selling. The law really is not to blame for actions of people trying to violate the law. It’d be like blaming laws against murders for murders.

    1. The law is certainly responsible for pushing people to use substances that they would have never used if the drugs they preferred had not been restricted. If drug warriors minded their own business them they would have no culpability but when they intervene into these transaction they bear a responsible for the causes that result that would otherwise not have resulted but for that intervention. When apportioning fault for the harm you have to take into account the intended and unintended consequences of a law.

      1. This logic is as specious as arguing people dying trying to illegally enter the USA on immigration law or to blame a rape on the outfit being worn at the time. I love this “individuals can make their own choices…EXCEPT when it comes to drugs” mentality.

        I dont even oppose legalization. But this asinine logic is fucking ridiculous.

    2. it is insane to blame the government for what dealers are selling

      ‘A silly assertion an authoritarian drug warrior might make, but which you would never hear from a libertarian for $500?’

      1. We’ve still never heard that horseshit from a libertarian.

    3. Just as “bathtub gin” was a direct result of the government’s war on alcohol during prohibition, fentanyl laced heroin is a direct result of the government’s war on drugs.

    4. This^ and I heard similar sorts of arguments during the pot referendum here in CO.

      Legalize a product so it can be taxed/regulated and thus made safer may be a very valid argument. But it sure as hell isn’t a LIBERTARIAN argument.

      ‘Black markets’ are the anarcho-libertarian wet dream of free markets that are not subject to any distortions of regulation. To then blame government for how that market actually functions re eg producers adulterating their products is simply dishonest.

      1. Yeah. Because libertarians oppose customers having recourse against fraud, which is basically what adulterated products are. Libertarians oppose rule of law, property rights, contract enforcement, and everything else. Because government bad.

        Did I get that right?

        1. libertarians oppose customers having recourse against fraud

          And the fucking FACT is that fraud can only have recourse if there is some mutual common understanding (eg re labelling, definitions, ingredients, etc) that courts can use to determine whether deception occurred. Markets do NOT create that and history proves that. Formal contracts can – but 99% of market transactions do not involve contracts unless you are one of those who has a lawyer on 24/7 retainer accompany you to the grocery store and mall and pharmacy.

          You only need to look at actual origins of consumer product regulation in this country – literally patent medicine and drugs – to know that ‘recourse against fraud’ DID NOT EXIST IN PRACTICE BEFORE THAT REGULATION.

          The election of 1912 was mostly about how that regulation would be effectuated and all three approaches then (and maybe others too) have some problems and some validity. But nothing is as dishonest as anarchos who want to assume that into existence while basing their intellectual argument on eliminating it.

          Did I get that right?

          Not every libertarian is an anarcho – but every anarcho is dishonest. And because anarchos entire world is based on rhetoric/argument, most who label themselves libertarian (with its etymological origins in 19th century anarchism) rather than classical liberal end up ‘supporting’ that dishonesty. So – yes.

          1. And the fucking FACT is that fraud can only have recourse if there is some mutual common understanding (eg re labelling, definitions, ingredients, etc) that courts can use to determine whether deception occurred. Markets do NOT create that and history proves that.

            So no one has ever or would ever put a label, definition, or ingredients list on anything except by government diktat?

            Thanks. I never knew that.

            1. So no one has ever or would ever put a label, definition, or ingredients list on anything except by government diktat?

              The first two laws – Biologics Control Act of 1902 and Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required ONLY accurate labels. The impetus for the first was the death of 22 children from a contaminated vaccine – some of which was also mislabeled as ‘Aug 24’ (actual production that day wasn’t contaminated) rather than ‘Sept 30’ (actual production that day was contaminated). Without that law there was no legal recourse, no product recall, and no accountability.

              PFDA1906 required that labels list some ingredients (alcohol/morphine/cocaine/etc) if included, forbid listing ingredients not included, and prohibited some poisons (eg arsenic) that were in some patent medicines that had resulted in hundreds of deaths, where there was a conspiracy with media and patent medicines companies re advertising/investigative content so no realistic chance of any legal discovery.

              Mises.org has just published a Rothbard book with a chapter on that second law – that dismisses those deaths altogether along Stalinist omelette lines and merely points to possible cronyism by the author of that legislation (which was pointed out 55 years ago by Gabriel Kolko).

              Your strawman is irrelevant. What matters is the FRAUDULENT producer be held to some known standard that can result in accountability. Otherwise – no recourse.

              1. You still make the assumption that if government didn’t do it, no one would.

      2. The black market is certainly subject to distortions by government activity. The simple fact that producers and/or consumers have a random chance of incurring a high cost (criminal penalties) they wouldn’t agree to distorts the market. It’s more like an enormous but inconsistent tax than it is a completely free market.

        1. Me saying “I wont allow you to do it” and you saying “i will do so anyway”, i am not responsible for what YOU do. At a point, YOU are making a decision and YOU have to deal with the consequences. I dont tolerate my 8 year old saying “He made me do it”. Dont know why I should be expected to tolerate that with adults.

          1. So government is our parent and we’re all 8 year olds?

            1. That seems to be Reason’s argument.

              The government is forcing anybody to buy or supply heroin. That is the choice of those individuals.

              They are either adults who can make decisions or infants who cannot.

              1. Nobody has a problem with some junkhead choosing to OD from a libertarian perspective. We don’t want it to happen, but if it does, it was their choice.

                What we want is for people to not be sent to jail for choosing to do heroin. That’s the government directly interfering with someone’s choice.

              2. Um, no. That is not Reason’s argument at all. That was your argument.

                Government’s attitude towards pain killers does often result in addicts resorting to illegal (and therefore unregulated) substances.
                Government’s war on those illegal substances does often result in dealers adulterating their products, as well as disputes often being settled with violence because the parties do not have access to courts.
                With the result often being death. Death as a direct result of government policies.

                Yes these people make a choice. A lousy choice with lousy results. Results that are made even worse by government policy.

                That’s the argument.

      3. “Legalize a product so it can be taxed/regulated and thus made safer may be a very valid argument. But it sure as hell isn’t a LIBERTARIAN argument.”

        Well it’s definitely not an “anarcho-libertarian” or an anarcho-capitalist argument, but to say its not a “LIBERTARIAN” or Libertarian argument is to hand the term completely over to the anarchists which I oppose doing.

        “‘Black markets’ are the anarcho-libertarian wet dream of free markets that are not subject to any distortions of regulation. To then blame government for how that market actually functions re eg producers adulterating their products is simply dishonest.”

        I think the true Libertarian argument is that government “distortions” should be limited as much as possible particularly extreme distortions like outright Prohibition which bars anyone from setting up a legal business and incentivizes criminals to set up a black market. Also to oppose the high tax and high regulatory regime that exists in places like New York which again only helps to boost black markets particularly in the sale of cigarettes.

        I tend to agree with what you’ve written below, I don’t really see evidence that without these interventions in the 1900s we would have had the sort of consumer protections that we take for granted today. Libertarianism should be about reducing the size and scope of government not getting rid of government altogether.

    5. You could look from another angle, would you apportion some culpability to the goverment if they kept a women from owning a fire arm because of common sense gun laws who was then killed by her estranged husband? The husband is guilty of murder but the goverment is to blame for not allowing her the chance to defend herself.

      1. You could look from another angle, would you apportion some culpability to the goverment if they kept a women from owning a fire arm because of common sense gun laws who was then killed by her estranged husband? The husband is guilty of murder but the goverment is to blame for not allowing her the chance to defend herself.

        I would blame the government because in their refusal to allow her make a decision. This would be synonymous to the government is responsible because the gun she bought and used did not work properly.

        If you, as a consumer, make a choice to buy a product that you know might kill you, it is not the government’s fault you made an exceedingly poor choice.

        Either people are responsible adults or they are not. If you wish to blame the government because some idiot bought heroin and died, then perhaps that idiot was, in fact, too stupid to be allowed to make their own decisions. Being an adult means you can make some harshly fucked up decisions and it is your fault you made them. The government did not FORCE them to buy heroin.

        Either you allow somebody to make a decision or you do not.

        1. “If you, as a consumer, make a choice to buy a product that you know might kill you, it is not the government’s fault you made an exceedingly poor choice.”

          It’s not the Government’s fault that a consumer made a personal poor choice in buying the product. It is the Government’s fault that the product is in a thriving black market rather than being sold in a legal market where the product has been tested and made safer for consumer use. You’re right that Government shouldn’t be held responsible for a consumer’s personal poor choices, but we damn well better hold Government responsible for its disastrous policies, the War on Drugs, which made that personal “poor choice’ worse for the consumer and the community.

    6. So when the government criminalizes victimless behavior they hold no responsibility for the unintended consequences? I suppose that applies to prostitution too. When a pimp beats a ho half to death and she’s unable to turn to the police out of fear of being thrown in jail the government holds no blame whatsoever, right?

      1. So when the government criminalizes victimless behavior they hold no responsibility for the unintended consequences?

        Basically. Either you want the government to make your decisions for you or you do not. If you think a law is bad or stupid and opt to ignore it, it is not the government’s fault if your CHOICE harms you.

        I suppose that applies to prostitution too. When a pimp beats a ho half to death and she’s unable to turn to the police out of fear of being thrown in jail the government holds no blame whatsoever, right?

        I also support prostitution because it is not my job to protect people from bad decisions. If you make a bad decision to get with a pimp and then make an additional bad decision in refusing to risk punishment to save your life, that is your choice. It is not mine.

        1. The pimp is “necessary” because the prostitute cannot provide personal safety and cannot effectively enforce contracts.

          Laws outlawing sex work make pimping possible.

        2. “. If you think a law is bad or stupid and opt to ignore it, it is not the government’s fault if your CHOICE harms you.”

          In what you describe, government has made the choice.

          If I tell you not to use a particular public sidewalk or I’ll punch you in the face, and you do anyway, is it your fault when I punch you? Or am I guilty of battery?

          1. If you use that sidewalk and you break your ankle on it…thatd be your fault.

            1. If I use a sidewalk and break an ankle, that’s my fault, I totally agree with that.

              But if I get a ticket for clumsiness while trying to get up, that’s on the justice system.

    7. Dealers sell drugs because drugs are illegal. I’d rather get my drugs from a pharmacist, personally.

      The law is certainly responsible for the actions of people trying to violate the law, because the law is unjust.

      A person who murders me, commits a crime against me. If I decide to engage in behavior that endangers me and me alone, that’s my business and hindering me is the crime.

    8. “Not to be too argumentative, but it is insane to blame the government for what dealers are selling. The law really is not to blame for actions of people trying to violate the law. It’d be like blaming laws against murders for murders.”

      Except we saw the consequences of the error of Prohibition from America’s failed experiment in the 20s. We’ve also seen more effective approaches in dealing with drugs in places like Portugal which the Feds either lie about or ignore. We’ve also seen the reasoning used by the politicians who started the War on Drugs “jazz musicians will seduce white women!” So I would suggest it’s insane to argue that the Feds have no culpability here.

      In a legal market place, pharmacists/doctors, scientists, and businessmen will enter the market place and have not just the incentive, but the ability to test their products to limit dangers to the consumers. This is why alcoholic beverages became much safer and less toxic for consumers when Prohibition ended and businesses were able to spend resources on effectively testing their alcohol to make it safe for consumers. To think that government keeping these products illegal didn’t lead to the dangers we see today, with the Drugs Cartels running the drug market, is to ignore reality.

  3. If heroin dealers are murderers, what about bartenders and tobacconists?

    I would say “don’t give them any ideas”, but we’ve already got the tobacco settlement that shows they’ve already got the idea. Next up, oil companies’ responsibility for global warming.

    1. I believe some states have passed laws where bars can be held responsible for mayhem a drunk they served causes.

      It kind of falls flat when you state a slippery dlope argument that has already happened.

      1. At least in my state, retail stores and the individual cashiers who sell underage people alcohol can be held responsible for not just selling it but for anything bad that happens.

  4. “God damn the pusher man!”

      1. I never understood the thinking that made selling drugs unlawful but gave tax breaks to faith healers and televangelists.

        1. The vast majority of religious outfits do tons of charitable work. Yes there are some outliers that take advantage, but those are outliers. That’s why they get the tax break. Because they are charities.

    1. The replies to this went in a strange directuon for a quote from a Steppenwolf song.

      1. They took a Magic Carpet Ride!

  5. So is Trump going to suggest execution for CEOs of alcohol companies too?

    No one forced them to do drugs. The drug war is where republican hypocrisy comes to full light on personal responsibility, conservatives preach about government staying out of citizens lives. When it comes to drugs government wants to punish the providers not the users.

    1. …but, then again, Libertarians want to blame the government for conscious decisions made by adults.

      either you believe somebody can make that choice or you do not. I see no evidence from EITHER side that they think that adults can make decisions. All bad results are somebody else’s fault.

      1. I blame drug laws for creating most of the problems associated with drug abuse.

        1. And that is an argument that is quite valid.

          But “Well, I took this shit and died because of the government” is what a child says.

          1. If I buy what I think is heroin of a certain potency, but is actually much stronger, or adulterated with fentanyl, and I die, then that is the fault of the justice system for denying me a pharmacist.

            People die from not knowing what they’re taking. The reason they don’t know is because the substance is illegal.

    2. When it comes to drugs government wants to punish the providers not the users.

      Nanny-staters follow a similar approach with respect to abortion. They claim abortion is murder but do not wish to convict the woman who chooses abortion.

      Substandard thinking tends to produce this type of thing.

      1. Prohibitionists _want_ to punish _both_ the providers and users – it’s just politically more practical to directly go after the providers. In the original Prohibition, the federal government repeatedly mandated that non-beverage alcohol for cleaning and industrial use be adulterated with more lethal and more difficult-to-remove substances, with the intent and effect of killing more users. One obvious analogy in the war on some drugs was spraying marijuana fields with toxins. It’s become _politically_ unacceptable to deliberately poison users, but any drug warrior that isn’t a complete idiot is aware that the effects of his policy choices are overdosed users, murdered pushers, cops throwing flash grenades into baby’s cribs, and innocents also caught in the crossfire of gang wars.

        I can’t see how someone who thinks preventing the implantation of a blastocyst is murdering a baby doesn’t want to prosecute the mother who aborts a fetus that’s beginning to look human – but it’s always been politically impossible to do so. Instead, they try to restrict abortions, knowing that this will result in desperate women using dangerous methods to try to induce an abortion themselves, or going to blackmarket providers who are criminally careless.

  6. “There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging psychoactive substances for money, even if some of your customers die after consuming them. ”

    uhhhhh… you wanna run that by me, again, chief?

    You can be a libertarian who understands that drug laws are not the most efficient way of dealing with drugs societally, but still understand that addiction is a horrible pestilence that largely DOES circumvent free will, and thus a lot of kinds of drug dealers really are fucking monsters. Jacob Sullum may be on “the right side” but he does say a lot of silly things. Like his repeated use of neurological reductionism to claim that shit like heroin and cocaine are no more addictive than Oreos. The way Sullum talks your think hard drugs are just a harmless fucking hobby that every single person can just take up or stop anytime they want

    1. So how is it inherently criminal or homicidal to provide drug users their drugs?

      Sure illegal drugs impede free will but that doesn’t make it wrong to sell it. Lots of things impede free will, like roller coasters or choosing to be a passenger in a car or drinking alcohol or having sex or … You get idea. None of these things are or should be criminal with consenting individuals.

      1. And if the consenting adults’ decisions lead to misery…whose fault is it, ultimately? You seem to be arguing it is the government for “making them” do something.

        1. Depends on the type of misery. If the misery is sanctions for possession, than that is the fault of the justice system.

          1. But that isnt the issue here. They are buying an illegal drug and have no knowledge of what is actually in it. The LEAST guilty party is the one saying “Do not do it”

            1. The LEAST guilty party is the one saying “Do not do it”

              The party saying “Do not do it” is also the party responsible for the person having no knowledge of what is actually in it.

              1. The party saying “Do not do it” is also the party responsible for the person having no knowledge of what is actually in it.

                The person buying it, sight unseen, is simply Darwinism in action.

                The government is not responsible if an absolute moron makes an absolutely moronic decision. “Why didn’t you stop me?” is the raving of a madman.

                1. There are two environments in which the person can make that choice. In one environment they know what’s in it and they live. In the other environment they don’t know what’s in it and they die. Government is the reason they live in the second environment.

                  1. There are two environments in which the person can make that choice. In one environment they know what’s in it and they live. In the other environment they don’t know what’s in it and they die. Government is the reason they live in the second environment.

                    They have no choice to NOT take it?

                    There is NO option to say “I don’t know what is in this and I won’t touch it?”

                    Good to know.

                    You are approaching this as if taking heroin is a fait accompli. That the choice to not take it is not available.

                    But I am impressed that Libertarianism is now all in support of forced food labeling laws and all…

                    1. They have no choice to NOT take it?

                      Addiction. Look it up.

                      But I am impressed that Libertarianism is now all in support of forced food labeling laws and all…

                      Who said anything about labeling being compulsory? I’d like to think that people would want to know what they’re buying, and that if someone was selling the stuff legally that they’d disclose purity and such.

                      Seems to me that you want to give people a choice between don’t do it or die. Whereas heartless libertarians would rather they have a choice between don’t do it or do it and know what’s in it.

                      Regardless, it is a fact that government policy is the reason they don’t know what they’re buying. You keep dancing around that as if it is irrelevant.

                    2. I am not sure you can claim addiction gives someone no choice about whether to take something and then claim they will be perfectly rational about what version to take and how much.

    2. @Edwin: uhhhhh… you wanna run that by me, again, chief?

      We have decided that:

      There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging automobiles for money, even though automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in the USA.

      There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging cigarettes for money, even though smoking them causes about 1.6 million deaths from lung cancer a year worldwide.

      There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging alcohol for money, even though a few drinkers will die of an outright overdose, more will ruin their lives and harm their families by becoming addicted, some will commit assault and battery and even murder under the influence, and very many will drive drunk at the risk of maiming and killing others as well as themselves.

      There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging money for high-calorie foods, even though an appallingly large percentage of Americans compromise their health by overeating.

      There is nothing inherently criminal, let alone homicidal, about exchanging money for drugs more dangerous than most of the banned drugs, provided the user has a doctor’s prescription.

      So how does selling a drug become morally different when Congressmen with no understanding of the science behind its effects make an arbitrary choice to ban it?

  7. Christ, what an asshole.

    It sounds like he’s been talking with his AG. Duterte much, dumbass?

  8. Sullum could look at the bright side. The George Holy War Bush presidential papers chronicle the numerous occasions he demanded the government put people to death for moving plant leaves and leaf derivatives. He lasted one term. George Waffen Bush used faith-based prohibitionist asset forfeiture looting to again completely wreck the economy. Only by promising to ban electricity in service of a different kind of hysteria did the Dems manage to lose to God’s Own Prohibitionists in 2000 and 2016. The hockey-stick increase in the Libertarian vote share has caused even the Prohibition party to stop publishing its standard Coathanger Abortion Amendment and death to beer drinkers platform planks. Where there’s LP spoiler votes, there’s hope.

  9. The ultimate slayer of pushers remains Chairman Mao and the communist party of the 1949-79 period. Users too. As China re-Westernizes socially the old scourges return. Singapore as well, but slowly. Then there’s the Philippines today.

    Conflating Prohibition of Alcohol with the other substances is tricky, When women started voting in the USA around 1920 they were overwhelming pro-Prohibition also as well, because alcohol was seen as the chief social welfare problem leading to the abuse of women and the neglect of children. Even if the feds hadn’t passed national prohibition, the majority of the states would have.

    Women were more strongly supportive of the new federal narcotics acts, because makers of cocaine and morphine patent medicine products had targeted female consumers and destroyed them.

    Support stuff that kills a lot of folks and you are either part of solution or you are part of the problem.

    w

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