Drug War Logic

Steven Taylor takes us on “Yet Another Foray into Drug War Logic” in which we learn that, no matter the outcome, it’s evidence that we’re winning the war on drugs. Which we’ve been just this close to winning for decades now.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MM says:

    Which we’ve been just this close to winning for decades now.

    Talk about a jobs creation program. If drug use is up, we need more resources for the war on drugs. If drug use is down, we’re getting a handle on the situation and need more resources for the war on drugs.

    Meanwhile, it takes me 20 minutes at the pharmacy to get cold medicine that actually works, but I could head down the block and buy meth in roughly 45 seconds.

  2. William d'Inger says:

    It strictly depends on your point of view. If you have a vested interest, you get tunnel vision about the it.

    Some of the very people who laugh at the idea that we can win the War on Drugs by throwing more money at it actually believe we can win the War on Poverty the same way.

  3. Franklin says:

    “If the drug effort were failing there would be no violence”

    Boy, I’d love to apply this type of logic to all sorts of things. If North Korea nukes Hawaii, then our sanctions must be working. They’re just lashing out, ya see.

  4. Drew says:

    Decriminalize immediately. This is the single biggest failure in all of conservative philosophy, and has resulted in more social malformation than many of the social policies conservatives abhor.

  5. anjin-san says:

    The war on drugs is about funding. It started when the Volstead Act was repealed and all the people who had jobs related to whiskey busting realized they were about to become unemployed. Overnight marijuana became “The Assassin of Youth”.

    The war does more damage to society than the drugs do. Legalize it, tax it, educate people about the risks and make treatment easy to get.

  6. William d'inger says:

    The war does more damage to society than the drugs do.

    I strongly disagree. Methinks Anjin-san is smokin’ too much Obama Stimulus®.

    Legalize it, tax it, educate people about the risks …

    THIS I agree with.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Let’s legalize it in one state and observe the consequences. I would expect us to learn a valuable lesson.

    Legalization is not the answer to our problems.

  8. Billy says:

    Legalization is not the answer to our problems.

    Clearly the status quo is working out pretty well, with regard to both the ever-decreasing amount of money we sink into corrections for drug offenders and the clear reduction in use/violence/potency/danger we’ve seen since Nixon began the war on drugs.

    What exactly is your suggestion for the “answer to our problems?”

  9. William d'Inger says:

    Let’s legalize it in one state and observe the consequences.

    That’s an excellent idea IMHO. I recommend Hawaii so people from neighboring states can’t simply drive over the state line for a quick fix.

  10. Grewgills says:

    I recommend Hawaii

    One issue with Hawaii as a case study is the already rampant use. I have lived there, Alabama, California, and the Netherlands and marijuana use in Hawaii is much higher there than any of the other places. Well over half of the people I came into contact with smoked or had smoked. This included my time spent working in religiously affiliated schools. Of those places marijuana use seemed least prevalent in the Netherlands, the only one where possession and use are legal (AL was a not too distant second).

    Legalize it and tax it. California might be a good place to start. It could help with our current deficit and would not substantially increase use given the current state of the law here.

  11. Burrow Owl says:

    “Let’s legalize it in one state and observe the consequences. I would expect us to learn a valuable lesson.”

    Been there, done that. Alaska, anyone?

    “Legalization is not the answer to our problems.”

    Boy, have you ever swallowed the propaganda kool-aid.

    Prohibition policies are what created most of the problems:

    * unregulated black market

    * gangs

    * government/ law enforcement corruption

    * ‘Drug War exceptions’ which have been used as justification to nullify most of the Bill Of Rights

    * legalized theft (asset forfeiture)

    * militarization of police

    The list goes on and on…….

    Re-legalization would be a giant leap in the right direction.

  12. Eric says:

    Some of the very people who laugh at the idea that we can win the War on Drugs by throwing more money at it actually believe we can win the War on Poverty the same way.

    Except, of course, “poverty” is directly related to economics in a way that the War on Drugs is not. So “throwing” money at it is the right thing. Poor analogy, Billy.

    And let’s not forget we “throw” money at education, too. I suppose you don’t want to do that either, huh–because, y’know, money is not the answer.

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    The status quo is a mess. But is that from drugs being illegal or just the way we have chosen to combat drug use? As far as answers I have none other than to point out that legalization is an unlikely fix.

    Alaska’s period of marijuana legalization was short and limited, not a real test. Alaska’s unique culture and lifestyle are very different from most of the country as well.

    My friend Owl should understand I have not drank the kool-aid of propaganda. I would suggest those who blindly adhere to legalization as the ones more likely to believe propaganda. I’m asking why would we assume this is a real fix when we have no good example of it working. No idea what spillovers might materialize.

    Now I don’t like the way the drug war is being fought but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Perhaps we should address that.

  14. William d'Inger says:

    “poverty” is directly related to economics in a way that the War on Drugs is not. So “throwing” money at it is the right thing.

    Lack of money is a symptom of poverty, Eric, not the cause of poverty. Treating a symptom is not the same as treating the disease. If someone is running a high fever, you can lower their temperature by dunking them in ice water long enough, but that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. I don’t care if it’s drugs, education or anything else, you need something besides money. While money is necessary, my beef with liberals is that they think it is sufficient.

  15. Billy says:

    I’m asking why would we assume this is a real fix when we have no good example of it working.

    Nice argument – please give a single good example of legalization actually being tried. Bonus points if you can cite a situation in which an observer cannot draw the “unique culture and lifestyle” distinction you yourself use.

    For my part, I can think of an example where legalization worked beautifully with a chemical far more dangerous than many of those currently on schedule one of the CSA.

    Now I don’t like the way the drug war is being fought but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Perhaps we should address that.

    If we start at the assumption that the drug war needs is not “wrong” and needs to be “fought,” what, exactly, is the problem with how the government is currently doing so? How would you improve it in ways that haven’t been tried in the last 40 years? Where is the evidence that such techniques would work?

  16. Steve Plunk says:

    Billy,

    I understand your arguments. I’m just not convinced that Alaska’s short experiment with pot is a good example. Didn’t they just have a three plant maximum for personal use? The small population and isolation does create a unique situation.

    Alcohol carries some pretty high societal costs and it’s prohibition had some problems. But alcohol also has significant cultural ties and even religious ties. These go back for thousands of years. Taking what was once legal and making illegal is not the same as legalizing drugs today. We are not just talking marijuana but all the others aren’t we? Think of the additional societal costs we would endure by adding these new vices to the mix.

    The terms “drug war” and the associated words “fight” and “fought” are not my inventions. I’m merely using the terminology generally accepted. I don’t think there is much debate that drug addiction is bad and needs to be countered in some way.

    We spend huge amounts of money of treatment and many Americans see that as wasteful while seeing drug law enforcement as the best way to go. Two very different approaches and two approaches that neither work in solving the problem.

    Hey, we’re all talking here throwing out ideas. As far as proving anything I’ll be the first to admit I ain’t got any. But logic is still a pretty good tool to use.

  17. Billy says:

    I’m just not convinced that Alaska’s short experiment with pot is a good example. Didn’t they just have a three plant maximum for personal use? The small population and isolation does create a unique situation.

    I agree that Alaska is not a relevant example. What I’m trying to say is that you can’t use the fact that something has never been successful as a reason not to engage in it, when it hasn’t even been tried before.

    Alcohol carries some pretty high societal costs…

    …which we, as a civilization, have managed to live with for several thousand years…

    and it’s prohibition had some problems.

    A huge understatement.

    Taking what was once legal and making illegal is not the same as legalizing drugs today.

    I understand that you will probably hang your hat on the fact that drugs have been illegal slightly longer (a generation or so) than alcohol was during prohibition, but this misses the point. All drugs were legal before they weren’t, and the Controlled Substances Act doesn’t have so long a history that there aren’t people alive today who can remember legally ingesting LSD, amphetamines, MDMA, and many others.

    We are not just talking marijuana but all the others aren’t we? Think of the additional societal costs we would endure by adding these new vices to the mix.

    First, why is marijuana painted with the same brush as heroin and PCP? There is no medical reason – they are primarily cultural and economic, and it is in no small part due to the lobby of corrections officers unions that research on marijuana is prohibited in this country.

    Second, people use all kinds of drugs every day. There are laws against behaving in ways that we find unacceptable; while the use of some substances by some individuals is clearly linked to antisocial behavior, the law is perfectly capable of separating the concepts of responsible adult inebriation from illegal behavior related thereto (see alcohol).

    My point is so what? People go crazy over all kinds of things – there are segments of the population who spend their days getting messed up on Lysol, but it’s not like we should make it illegal.

    It seems that society has a fundamental divide between those that want to criminalize “scandalous” behavior in others and those who couldn’t care less what other people do so long as it does not negatively affect their own rights. Drug use, much like gay marriage and premarital sex, clearly falls into this classification. There are a few reasons to want to criminalize behavior of which you don’t approve, but which doesn’t actually affect your life in any measurable way. Fear, puritanical values, disingenuity, or some combination of all three are the only ones I can understand; perhaps you can enlighten me on a better reason.

    Are there costs associated with allowing people to get messed up in the way of their choosing? Sure, just as there are costs with affording any freedoms to others, people have a knack for screwing things up, and drugs are no exception. Does the benefit of slightly reducing the risk associated with those drugs we consider illegal (vs. those we consider legal, and the divide generally rests on whether or not such substances can be enjoyed outside of a “medical” use) outweigh the very real societal costs that come with branding as criminal a very normal behavior and those who engage in it simply because some of us don’t like it or are scared of what it can lead to? Not on your life it doesn’t.

    Please explain why criminalizing antisocial behavior is not a strong enough response to the inability of a small segment of the drug-using population to handle being messed up in a responsible way. For my money, I’d rather have the economic benefits that free-market capitalism could reap from a legal trade in drugs (which would incidentally defang the cartels in Latin America as well).

  18. anjin-san says:

    I strongly disagree

    OK. Can you support your position?

  19. anjin-san says:

    Anybody remember the Shafer Comission? NIXON’s comission? Mr. Law and Order…

    The story is interesting reading.

    A historical footnote to the drug war. Mr. Nixon’s “Operation Intercept” which attempted to stop pot smuggling from Mexico in 1969 helped touch off the cocaine boom of the ’70s. Did cocaine do more harm than pot? Signs point to yes.

    Another fun unintended side effect of the war on drugs. The Mexican government is losing its war with the drug cartels, and Mexico is now in significant danger of becoming a failed state.

  20. Grewgills says:

    Another unintended side effect of the drug war in HI is the rise of heroin, crack, and ice use in the 80s. The federal government decided to attempt to eradicate marijuana in HI. To this end they gave considerably money to HI law enforcement for training, helicopters, and IR equipment for the helicopters. “Green Harvest” successfully closed down tons of production and resulted in marijuana going from near free since almost anyone who wanted it knew someone who grew to over $400 and ounce. In short order marijuana became more expensive than heroin and much more expensive than ice and crack. These drugs that had very little draw when marijuana was cheap and plentiful were cheaper, gave a more intense high, and were strongly physically addictive. The result was an increase in use of these hard drugs, booby traps around weed patches, and people willing to kill to protect their crops. I think anyone can agree that this outcome is far less than ideal.

    I realize that the Netherlands has a far different culture, but the legalization of “soft drugs” and focus on treatment for “hard drugs” seems to work far better than our model. The same can be said for prostitution. The market will ensure that there will be supply to meet the relatively inflexible demand. Far better that the market is legal, controlled, and safe as possible than to drive it underground where it will be uncontrolled and far less safe for consumer, provider, and community.

  21. The status quo is a mess. But is that from drugs being illegal or just the way we have chosen to combat drug use? As far as answers I have none other than to point out that legalization is an unlikely fix.

    Part of the problem is, of course, there is no “fix” if “fix” means eliminating the problem. Drugs are problematic, as people will inevitably use them in ways that are detrimental to themselves and those around them. All we have to do is look at alcohol (as has been noted above) to know this to be true.

    I used to think that we simply weren’t fighting the drug war properly, and if we could just get it right then we could “win”–however that was based on buying into the paradigm and assuming that we had no choice.

    However, after years of study, it is patently clear to me that we are wasting billions upon billions of dollar and are making the problem worse, not better. Indeed, I would submit that any person who really looks into the matter will have their mind changed substantially, unless they are doctrinaire opponents of intoxicants in general.

    What we often fail to understand is that all of the drugs in question were once quite legal, and society didn’t collapse. Heck, you could order heroin from the Sears catalog, for crying out loud. Indeed, it used to sold as a cough remedy. And before one dismisses that as some whacky medical oddity from the days of leeches, I would suggest that you look at the ingredients in codeine.

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Legalize them, lol, and then in the next stimulus package we should get them for free,and then when crap loads of liberal voters overdose and die things might start to turn around in the next election. I’m all for it!

  23. Matt says:

    You cannot OD on pot G.A. 😛