Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why drugs should (but never will ) be legal

The only reason I signed up in the first place was to crack some skulls.

That picture above, courtesy of the DEA, is their Acting Administrator, Michele Leonhart.

Recently I wrote that there is no Illuminati, no overarching conspiracy -- no singular group that is controlling everything.  Here is a striking example of how interests can converge to create the appearance of a conspiracy, when in fact the individual agents are simply acting in their own best interests.

I will not deny that the CIA has been running coke and heroin for decades with the aid of the Bush Crime Family, but that is a subject for another article.

The apparent "conspiracy" in question today is US drug policy.  Why are drugs such a problem in this country?  The answer is that the entire drug industry, including the "prison-industrial complex" supported by our laws, is profitable.

The market in illicit drugs is hard to pin down -- data about price, purity, etc. of drugs on the street is very inconsistent.  For simplicity's sake, I am going to avoid figures but when necessary use what I believe are fairly accurate round numbers, to give a general idea of the drug market structure.  For those of you who want to look for yourselves, here are some historical figures from the gub'mint's own Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) regarding price and purity at different levels of the drug market using 1981-2007 data.  It is far too tiresome for me to quote from, but there are some nifty charts and tables:

Starting at the end-user level, we have people paying, for example, about $100 per gram of cocaine.  They purchase from a low-level supplier who is marking up at least 100%.  He buys from a higher level supplier, who is paying perhaps half of the low-level dealer.  It keeps going up like this, and if you chase the supply chain all the way back to farmers growing opium or coca, the price drops to almost nothing.

Now, there are some good reasons for this pricing structure.  The end user wants the drugs, arguably needs the drugs, badly enough that he is willing to pay whatever it takes (more on that in a minute).  At each level in the supply chain, there is more risk -- larger amounts of cash involved, more serious players, more severe punishment if caught, etc. etc.  This, combined with the high demand for these substances, makes it a very lucrative -- albeit dangerous -- business.  Never mind that the farmers, the actual producers, are getting screwed on the deal -- but then, they don't have to smuggle it out of the jungles, process it, and distribute it in an extremely, ah, harsh environment.  Therein lies the nut.

Between Farmer Joe in Colombia picking his seasonal crop of coca and Joe Blow in Philadelphia smoking his crack pipe, there is a lot going on.  Who benefits?  Clearly the ones who have set up multimillion or multibillion drug distribution businesses are profiting, but who else?  The DEA perhaps?  Other law enforcement?  The industries that support them?

Obviously, yes, the DEA would not exist if Farmer Joe could set up an internet store and sell his product directly to Joe Blow (or even to a larger company that would process it and sell a quality-controlled end product).  But it does exist, and do you think the DEA has any interest in eradicating drugs?  They would be out of jobs if they ever accomplished their mission.

Then there are the more local levels of law enforcement, where small-time dealers and end users are targeted.  Again, law enforcement has no interest in getting ALL of the drugs off the streets, because then people would slowly begin to realize that the police aren't needed anymore.  Instead, we arm them with guns, which makes the other side arm themselves with bigger guns, it escalates and suddenly cocaine and heroin dealers are getting busted with AK-47's and there is a "clear need" for more police, more money for law enforcement, more!

It is not just the police though -- you have a whole system, the "criminal justice system" -- set up to deal with the offenders.  Look at the prison demographics and what do you find?  A lot of people who don't have any money to begin with and can't participate in consumer society to a significant degree.  So what makes sense for us to do with them?  We can lock them up and make our money from the rest of the citizens, the taxpayers.  Because we are keeping the children safe.

Let's look at it from the perspective of the end user.  For whatever reason, this person wants to use a particular drug.  It doesn't really matter why -- we know that people want to use drugs, or none of this would be an issue.  So Joe Blow buys $100 worth of cocaine from a low-level dealer.  This lasts him a day, and then he wants more.  I don't know about you but I don't make enough money to afford to spend an extra $700/week.  What if he bought the drugs directly from Farmer Joe?  Well, he can't.

So what does he do?  He steals.  Look at the prisons.  They are full of not just drug offenders, but people who have stolen to support their habits.  From Wikipedia (

"Between 1982 and 2006, $68,747,203,000 was spent on corrections.[48] "The average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day; among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate, or $62.01 per day."[49]

Not a bad deal for the jailors, huh!?  Not a very good one for the taxpayers, though.  Keep in mind that is just the cost of housing inmates, not chasing them down, arresting them, etc.  Interestingly enough, $20,000 is about the wholesale price, according to the ONDCP, of a kilogram of cocaine.  That's enough to give Joe Blow and two of his friends almost a gram a day for free all year long -- in other words, a lot less expensive than incarceration.  And all of that other money, the enforcement money?  Why not pay counselors to help the Joe Blows who decide they don't want to do drugs anymore?

So what do we do, legalize drugs and give them out for free?  That is exactly what we should do.  Won't that create more drug addicts?  Let me ask you this: if drugs were legalized today, would you go out and start doing drugs (assuming you don't already)?  I can't imagine that my straight-edge parents would saunter down to the mini-mart for a bag of crack if it was suddenly legal, but I could be wrong...

You and I both know that it will never happen, though.  Crime would disappear, police would lose jobs, and unfortunately there is simply no other work for most of these people.  And if they don't work, the gears of our economic system grind to a halt.  Supposedly.  Were they smart enough to think this up?  No, but they are smart enough to know a sweet deal when they see one, and are not going to give up easily.

The one exception to this is cannabis, if you want to call cannabis a drug (the government does).  There is a strong current moving toward legalization of cannabis, for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the most important reason for this taking hold is that the black market has largely been subverted in recent years by small-time domestic growing operations.  The government is not getting the same big marijuana seizures that it used to from organized crime, because it has become more of a mom 'n' pop business.  So now the government wants to legalize and tax it, because they can see they are losing money.  And the fact is that cannabis supports consumer society far more than drugs -- the market for entertainment (video games, movies, music, etc.) and food (Twinkies, Cheetos, Taco Bell, etc.) is now driven by stoners.  That last point might sound a bit glib, but watch 10 minutes of commercials and tell me who is the target audience...

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