Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Disaster Known as the War on Drugs

According to this Drug Control Funding Table from the White House Drug Policy website, the United States spent 13.844 billion dollars in 2007 on drug control. This figure does not include what individual states spent on drug control activities. This figure also doesn't include the indirect costs induced in 2007 due to the "War on Drugs." These indirect costs include the burden on the judicial system due to the arrests, trials, and incarcerations of drug offenders and the reduced efficiency of the national economy as people spend increased time trying to avoid being caught rather than contributing to the economy.

So, why should we legalize drugs?
  1. The costs of trying to enforce a prohibition on drugs far outweigh the costs. As evidenced by the failure of the alcohol prohibition, trying to legislate controlled substances does not significantly reduce the behavior, it only drives the behavior underground.
  2. Government should be punishing crimes, not trying to punish the supposed source of the crime.
  3. There is an inconsistency when alcohol - a substance that has plenty of potential for abuse - is legal, while other drugs, such as marijuana, which is not chemically addicting, are illegal. Alcohol and controlled substances such as marijuana can be used without causing people to commit serious crimes. Again, we should be punishing the crimes, not trying to punish what "experts" deem to be the source of those crimes.
  4. Our prisons and jails are already overcrowded. We should be using prison space to house criminals who pose a serious danger to society - criminals such as murderers, rapists, and child molesters - rather than guarding people who do not pose a violent risk to society. By the same token, we should avoid incarcerating so-called white collar criminals because white collar criminals do not pose a violent risk to society. Rather, we should be using heavy fines and other such penalties to punish nonviolent offenders.
  5. Making certain drugs illegal only drives up the cost of those drugs. It is a basic principle of supply and demand; by constricting the supply of drugs, while the demand doesn't significantly change leads to an increased price. Then, because of the increased price, there is increased appeal in manufacturing and selling drugs due to the potential for increased profits. The stakes go up and thus drug dealers/manufacturers are willing to resort to violence in order to protect their business.

What are the caveats?

  1. It is essential to regulate the manufacturing of drugs such as methamphetamine. Certain drugs, such as meth, must be very carefully manufactured in order to reduce the risk of deadly explosions. Amateurs should not be allowed to manufacture meth in their homes due to the very high risk that a serious chemical contamination of an entire neighborhood could occur.
  2. It is also extremely important that employers still be allowed to discriminate based on drug use. Drug users must understand that just because their drug use is legal does not mean that they are guaranteed protection under discrimination laws. Drug use still poses serious risks and employers should be allowed to refuse to hire a drug user based on an assessment that the costs of hiring a drug user outweigh the benefits of doing so.

Legalizing drug use would not only save federal and state governments billions of dollars, it would also reduce the burden that is currently placed on our judicial system. More effort could be put into keeping violent offenders off the streets. Although I am most definitely not advocating drug use as a good choice, I believe that it is not worth the economic costs for the government to attempt to severely curtail drug use.


Anonymous said...

Well, I agree with you almost completely, except the part about white collar criminals. The only thing is that there are really very few "white collar" criminals, but the damage that they inflict on society is heinous. it's not like the executives at enron are gonna stop just because they're fined a couple of million dollars, remember they stole *Billions* of dollars from american citizens.

White collar criminals start genocides, economic depression, and civil wars in foreign countries that spill over into the US(see reference United Fruit and the marra salvatrucha).

Consider that while it might cost quite a bit of money to get rid of white collar criminals, it costs more to let them succeed.

on the other hand pot heads just sit on couches and laugh hysterically at bad film while consuming cheetos. This is still destructive to society in the long term and should be addressed, but not through jail sentences.

do you see the difference?

Madeline said...

While I agree that white collar criminals can wreak havoc on our nation, I am still not convinced that putting white collar criminals in jail is the right answer. There ought to be other ways to punish the white collar criminals that don't involve tremendous outlays of cash. For example, in addition to hefty fines, you could put them under house arrest, force them to wear a monitoring device, assign them to do several thousand hours of community service. Of course, there are going to be the extreme cases where it is truly necessary to put a white collar criminal in jail, but I believe that we should first look to other forms of punishment.

By the same token, I think that a lot of the sentences for violent offenders should be lengthened. It is simply ridiculous to sentence someone to 20 years and then let them out after 10 because they were on "good" behavior. By exploring forms of punishment other than jail time for nonviolent offenders, we can keep violent and dangerous offenders in prison and away from society for longer.

Again, I am by no means diminishing the damage that white collar criminals can cause. I agree that they can commit crimes that damage society and the economy to its core. However, I don't think housing these offenders in jails is the right way to punish them.