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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Drug War Escalation Is Cruel and Stupid

Attorney General Jeff Sessions's order to prosecutors to seek maximum sentences is wrongheaded.

President Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered federal prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for drug-related crimes.
This is both cruel and stupid.

It's cruel because Session's 5,000 prosecutors must now push for long jail sentences even for people who pose no violent threat and for some who are utterly innocent.

It's stupid because it will cost America a fortune but won't make us safer.

The U.S. already locks up more people than any other country. We have 4 percent of the world's population but more than 20 percent of the world's prisoners.

This happened partly because of bad reporting by people like me. Decades ago, my colleagues and I made people more terrified of crime than they need to be, by covering all the grisly details of local crimes.

"If it bleeds, it leads" became the mantra in newsrooms.

Our scary reporting, combined with a doubling in the crime rate from about 1960 to 1990, led politicians to say, "We must do something!"

Politicians reacted to the media hype by passing three-strikes laws and intensifying the war on drugs.

Three-strikes laws worked, if "worked" means locking people up for longer periods. But taking away judges' ability to use their own judgment is cruel to some defendants.

It's also not clear that the longer sentences made us safer. Crime dropped just as much in states that liberalized sentencing rules as states that did not.

Intensifying the drug war definitely did not work. America locked drug sellers up, but drug use remained the same. Fat black-market profits enticed new groups of sellers to enter the business.

Now, almost no one claims that getting stoned is a good thing. Drugs, like alcohol, should be kept away from children. I admire President Trump's self-restraint. He says he's never used drugs, cigarettes or alcohol partly because his brother, Fred, drank himself to death. Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol do a lot of damage.

But they don't do it to everyone. Lots of American adults manage drug or alcohol use while still raising families and going to work.
Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama used drugs when they were young, but then, when they became presidents, they hypocritically supported the drug war. They locked up other Americans who had less power than they had.

That didn't stop drug sales. The drug war just drove the trade into the hands of nastier criminal gangs. Violence between those gangs is a much bigger problem than the drug use itself.

As Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore police officer and former drug warrior, puts it, "Drugs are problematic. But the policies to prohibit their use are 10 times more problematic."

During Prohibition, gangs like Al Capone's shot each other over alcohol. It wasn't because alcohol suddenly made people more violent during those years. It was simply because a popular product was made illegal. The murder rate dropped by half when Prohibition ended.

Trump says he's worried about violence in black neighborhoods and violence committed by drug gangs along the U.S.'s southern border. He's right to worry. So legalize the stuff! Take sales away from the black market.

That's all he'd have to do to take the money and allure out of gang life. When drugs are legal, customers buy intoxicants from ordinary stores, businesses that settle disputes with lawyers instead of guns.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    The memo states when federal prosecution is determined appropriate, federal prosecutors should ensure the individuals driving violent crime in their district are prosecuted using the tools at their disposal, which may include firearms offenses, including possession and straw purchasing offenses; possession of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime or drug trafficking offense; Hobbs Act robbery; carjacking; violent crime in aid of racketeering; Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; and drug offenses under the Controlled Substances Act, among others.
    John I dig you but the memo is geared toward violent crime. There are violent drug users and drug sellers.

    In other words, the fed might focus on violent drug offenders and leave non-violent drug offenders mostly alone.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am not a lefty posing as a Libertarian like you are. "Our" does not apply to me and you.

    Speaking of jackbooted thugs, how is Obama? All those years to roll back drug laws and didn't do much until his last weeks in office and even then it was a flaccid attempt.

  • Jacks61||

    Speaking of Obama, he is retired. Stop going backwards. Sessions is the one doling out more old failed policies. He's an old man that is to damn lazy to try a new approach. The lock em up policy does not work.

    Did I mention Obama is retired and has nothing to do with this?

  • Microaggressor||

    Usually what that ends up meaning is getting caught in possession of both drugs and a gun. It's a de facto erosion of 2A, which you should care about if you really love the constitution. You should know better than to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am for repealing all illicit drugs laws. Until then if the government treats simple dope heads differently from drugs users and distributors who hurt and kill others, then I am moving on to other issues that we have.

    I wanted to make the point that the memo seemed to differentiate between simple drug users and violent drugs users. We can revisit this after we find out what is happening on the street.

  • The Divine Reactionoid||

    So once you can freely smoke pot, fuck the coke heads, you're going home?

    Myself, I won't rest until all the... yeah sure, I'll take a hit... what were we talking about again?

    That last Tron movie is way better if you mute the sound, the dialog is fucking retarded and Daft Punk is weak ass techno for pussies.

  • VicRattlehead||

    the controlled substances act is anathema to the constitution, the violence of some drug offenders can be solely attributed to the war on drugs and the illegality of the products, if milk were illegal dairy farmers would have to protect their crops and products with the same level of violence to prevent robbery or to enforce payment.
    the violence is the fault of the state, the solution is to end the state not to make more problems.

  • The Divine Reactionoid||

    I think there might be a bottle rocket house at the end of my block, sketchy types going in and out at all hours of the night, hear lots of whistling followed by loud pops. There's definitely a fair amount of Roman candle gang activity nearby, which I suspect may be connected to some heavier fireworks cartels. Dude got murdered over an eighth of cherry bombs just last week.

    See? Your milk analogy kinda sucks.

    Drugs shouldn't be the federal government's problem, but let's get fucking real, even by Prohibition standards, they do attract more than the usual amount of criminal assholery.

  • Gene||

    Incentives matter.

  • Wizard4169||

    Well, duh. When you criminalize a business, that business inevitably gets taken over by criminals. When you can't turn to the police or courts, the only way to resolve disputes is violence, either actual or at least credibly threatened. Therefore, the trade ends up controlled by whoever is most willing and able to use violence.

  • Cynical Asshole||

  • ||

    I don't think you're speaking drug-warrior correctly.

    the individuals driving violent crime =/= violent criminals

    The drug trade is plagued by violence, ergo attempting to purchase or use drugs = "driving violent crime."

    Historically, the drug war has always been packaged as "going after the violent dealers, not the harmless individual users"

    But you know what the problem with the violent drug dealers is? They're dangerous. Rounding up potheads keeps your metrics up, and your officers alive, so that's what actually gets done.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    LoveCon,
    Fuck you, you Contarded cuntweasel.
    That is all.

  • Wizard4169||

    In other words, the fed might focus on violent drug offenders and leave non-violent drug offenders mostly alone.

    They might. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. If you turn out to be right and the feds focus on violent criminals while leaving non-violent drug "offenders" alone, I'll certainly be happy about that. But, history suggests your optimism is a bit naive.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    I learned something today: It's time to move to Portugal.

  • Agammamon||

  • timbo||

    You know what works?

    having the government outlaw things that people want.

  • The Divine Reactionoid||

    Yes, you progs like drugs.
    This is already known.

  • Libertarian||

    After reading Stossel's piece, Ann Coulter tweeted, "This is why I hate libertarians."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    You're not calling Ann Coulter vile are you? Because that's beyond the pale.

  • timbo||

    She does serve a good purpose though.

    Having the token neocons stumping for the same wastes that the leftists like is always a sobering reality check for the sheep who might one day pay attention.

  • sarcasmic||

    You misspelled cunt.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I would never insult female genitalia by comparing it to Coulter.

  • croaker||

    Not like she has one.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Wait, why are you following Ann "Skeletor's Worse Cousin" Coulter on Twitter?

  • Libertarian||

    We all have our guilty pleasures. Ann Coulter is mine.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Jesus, dude. You couldn't pick a healthier vice, like heroin or bestiality?

  • Microaggressor||

    God damnit, you made me go down the Twatter rabbit hole and I've already had my fill of stupid for the day.

  • Libertarian||

    That that idiot is using the pseudonym "Hugh Beaumont" -- the best goddam TV dad of all time -- is an abomination unto nature.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Goddamn, what a historical illiterate. You know why the Irish starved? Because the British authorities actively discouraged "lazy-bed" potato planting, which would have slowed the spread of the blight, AND actually exported non-potato foodstuff FROM Ireland at the height of the famine.

  • timbo||

    The government meant well though.

    Idiots like coulter have never bothered to look any further into the libertarian platform for ending the drug war other than to assume we just want to get high for free.

    She is the classic imbecile like brak o. Never look at the fiscal side of the argument, only the side that tugs at heartstrings.

    Same goes for war, cronyism, military-industrial complex spending, SSI, anything else these mouthpieces oppose the other side for.

  • MSimon||

    "exported non-potato foodstuff FROM Ireland at the height of the famine."

    They got offered a better price. Happens all the time.

  • Robert||

    I think we're parsing the sentence differently. I took it to mean that lazy-bed planting would've caused production to increase to where they could export potatoes, while it seems you mean the gov't was promoting exports while discouraging lazy-bed. Anybody know which it is?

  • Wizard4169||

    The British Corn Laws imposed stiff tariffs on imported grains. Combined with a shortage of grain due to bad weather, this kept the price of grain high enough that it was profitable to ship grain from Ireland to England, even as the potato blight meant many Irish were starving. Much of the Irish farmland was controlled by absentee English landlords, who had little reason to care about starving Irishmen. They were heavily over-represented in Parliament, and lobbied to keep grain prices high.

    Overall, a textbook demonstration of why government interference in the market can easily lead to great evils.

  • Juice||

    I guess this is what they mean by being on the wrong side of history.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Government is just a word for us all being cruel together.

  • MSimon||

    14-Year Veteran Undercover Cop Exposes Truth About The Drug War: "I Used To Believe I Was Doing Good"

    "When I went into policing I thought addicts had made the mistake of trying drugs and had no willpower to stop. Actually, problematic drug users – or at least all the ones I knew – were self medicating. Most of the heroin users I knew were self-medicating for childhood trauma, whether physical or sexual. As an undercover officer I spent a great deal of time getting to know these people.

    ***

    I have been saying that for over 12 years.

    What I'm looking for now is a Christian explanation for making war on abused children.

  • MichaelL||

    There is nothing Christian about alcohol or drug prohibition! The first prohibition given to man in the Bible failed. (Eating the fruit) We humans have a thing called "free will", that politicians don't seem to understand.

  • Nominalis||

    The War on Drugs may be cruel and stupid but it sends important messages to children about the power of intolerance and discrimination. If we don't stigmatize and demonize certain people how will the children know who are the socially acceptable targets to hate? If we teach our children understanding and compassion they might just experiment with life and learn stuff that's not in the Bible. Not my kids, I'm going to instill them with a healthy fear of knowledge and a respect for the Confederacy.

  • ||

    051717 un'reason.comcrueldrugwar Re : un'reason.com's off point article.

    As well, on the basis of the terms of his campaign... Trump needs to fire Sessions and appoint a US Attorney who will enforce the law involving every elected - appointed - administrator government employee who has/is using their government office ; position and Taxpayer $$$, time, stuff to aid and abet the illegal alien criminal [and terrorist] soft invasion of America.

    A soft invasion is an act of : the conduct of war against/on the country so being invaded.

    "We cannot keep electing the same Hate America to destruction Ameri'Kan Political Class people to the offices of Our governments and expecting different results… far from being crazy, voting in the same political class people and expecting different results Is Not Crazy... It is brain dead stupid.

  • joebanana||

    Drug use, abuse, and addiction are a medical condition, not a criminal act. Criminalizing a medical condition is a criminal act. The "war" on some drugs is unconstitutional, and declaring war on an inanimate object is insane.(and needs Congresses approval)
    Doctors are the 21st century drug pushers, and television ads for prescription drugs is ludicrous.
    Jeff Sessions is the new Bin Laden.

  • MarkJulianSmith||

    No it is not. The fact is the rewarding of deviant behavior under the forgiveness paradigm has failed as the data on hard drug use particularly of heroin clearly indicates.

    DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
    Jun 25, 2015 - Illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing. In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the ...

    "The researchers noted that the mortality rates among the patients in their study exceed those previously reported for patients treated in specialized substance use disorder treatment programs."
    High mortality among opioid use disorder patients in a general health care setting National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) April 2017

    Continuing with the same:'disorder treatment programs' has led to failure continuing down the same path is a sign of?

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Did you just wander over from the Federalist or Brietbard, Contarded Asshole?

  • Harry Jones||

    You may disagree No Yards but insulting him isn't going to convince him/her. Perhaps make your point and go on instead of using inappropriate words.

  • Wizard4169||

    True. I've actually found a few people commenting at Breitbart who respond positively to facts and logic. (What those people are doing at Breitbart is anybody's guess.) So, I always try polite persuasion first. Of course, if it turns out they really are bigoted dipshits, then I feel free to unleash my inner asshole. (Which is why I'm there. Sometimes I just want to unload, and they provide plenty of deserving targets.)

  • MatthewlovesAyn||

    I have noticed a disturbing trend at Reason. You are sounding more and more like the bitter anti-Trumper friends I have unfriended on Facebook. You seem to be blaming him for policies he didn't initiate, but is willing to follow the law. You said the right thing at the end, legalize, but you should put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the people responsible, Congress.
    Being the conspiracy theorist I am, I think Congress takes money from people that profit from the war on drugs. It makes government bigger and more powerful if you can spend (waste) $4o billion a year fighting something that shouldn't be any of the government's business.

  • Thomas O.||

    If Congress would take immediate action on these MJ-reform bills right after they were introduced, I would agree with you. But the fact is, all we hear about these bills in the news IS that "they were introduced". No word on "sent to a floor vote". Nothing about "the House/Senate approved/rejected the RSML Act". Nope, just introduced... and then it's on to the Committee Dead Zone, and then the "circular file".

    Until I actually see some action on those MJ-reform bills... "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Thomas O.||

    And I do agree with you about the Congress taking bribes from those with drugwarboners.

  • b4integrity||

    "Now, almost no one claims that getting stoned is a good thing. Drugs, like alcohol, should be kept away from children. I admire President Trump's self-restraint. He says he's never used drugs, cigarettes or alcohol partly because his brother, Fred, drank himself to death. Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol do a lot of damage."

    Who could believe that John Stossel is so ignorant that he does not know that "cigarettes and alcohol" are drugs; in fact these two hard drugs, tobacco & alcohol, are the two most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs when ingested!

    Why is Stossel soft on drugs? Why has Stossel surrendered to the tobacco & alcohol drug lords? Why does Stossel want the 2 most deadly & dangerous of ALL drugs, tobacco & alcohol, to remain uncontrolled substances, exempt from virtually every drug law, when tobacco & alcohol meet the definitions of schedule I & II controlled substances in the CSA?

  • Harry Jones||

    Drink a beer. Then shoot up some heroine or smoke some meth. Beer is worse! I don't disagree alcohol and cigarettes are drugs trying to create a strict hierarchy of better or worse ones is a tad bit of an oversimplification.

  • HenryC||

    Jeff Sessions is enforcing the law as it is written. I do not believe the law is a good idea, but it is what it is. Sessions job is to enforce the law, not rule on its merits. Obama ignored the law, and convince a lot of judges to do the same. We will never get the law changed that way.

  • jomo||

    I'm sure that if the starting QB for Alabama were to get busted for weed, Sessions and his ilk would immediately determine that "in this particular case, some discretion is warranted" and nervously sputter about "youthful indiscretions."

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