War on Drugs Reconsidered

Is there a legalization argument building?

Former British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who also worked in the Home Office on the topic of drug control policy is arguing for a radical change in the UK’s approach to illicit drugs:

Mr Ainsworth said his departure from the frontbenches now gave him the freedom to express his view that the “war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster”.

He will tell MPs today: “Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harm to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit.

“We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.”

He will also say: “Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown-up debate about alternatives to prohibition.”

Source for the above: An article in The Independet from earlier last month, All drugs should be legalised to beat dealers, says former minister.

This is yet another example of someone who has seen the drug war close up and has come to the conclusion that it is not worth the cost (or, indeed, even efficacious for that cost).

I found the above link from a more recent TNR piece by John McWorter (Getting Darnell Off the Corners: Why America Should Ride the Anti-Drug-War Wave) which is worth a read. The piece is imperfect as I think it make some broad claims that require refinement. However, the basic argument, that prohibition economics creates perverse incentives for some in poverty, is on the mark.

At a minimum he rightly notes:

We need simply to imagine a day when a Jevon thinks about dropping out of school and selling drugs and realizes that he can’t do that because drugs are available for low prices at Rite-Aid and CVS.

Indeed.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Terrye says:

    Didn’t the Mexicans legalize weed a couple of years ago? If so, I can’t see it is helping.

  2. Terrye says:

    And the idea that all these gangsters are going to turn into law abiding citizens because Jr can buy meth at the local drug store and rot his teeth out and turn his brain to mush without breaking the law seems a tad naive to me. They are criminals. Why not make murder legal too? Thing of how much simpler that would make things for law enforcement.

  3. floyd says:

    What? Prescriptions for non-theraputic recreational drugs?
    Doctors and Pharacists are already asked to be hitmen…. Why not pushers?
    What next? Psychiatrists as pimps? Sounds a bit like RASHionalization!(sic)
    Walgreen’s pharmacy/headshop…. Only the left could “imagine” that.

    I can just see the television commercials on Saturday Morning!
    Seriously, why involve the Doctors and Pharmacists?
    Why not the the liquor store instead of Rite-aid and CVS ?
    This sounds more suited to dramshop than legitimate medicine.

  4. They are criminals.

    And so, too, were guy who sold beer and whiskey at one point.

    Just because a specific activity is criminal now does not mean that it necessarily ought to be (or that it always was). In others words you are making a declaration that is true, but you are not making an argument.

    BTW, one used to could buy heroin via mail-order catalog.

  5. Drew says:

    The “War on Drugs” has been, predictably, as successful as Prohibition. With similar social malformations. Legalization can’t come soon enough.

  6. steve says:

    Agree with Drew. Since most violent crime and robbery associated with drugs comes from the process of acquiring them, we should be safer while reducing incarceration costs. (See Moskos, Cop In The Hood.)

    Steve

  7. wr says:

    Ooh, look at all the good libertarians scurrying out to slam the idea that people should really be free to do what they want with their own bodies.

    Is there a single libertarian out there who actually cares about anything other than how much he pays in taxes? I’m strongly beginning to doubt it.

  8. Terrye says:

    Steven:

    I can not compare the people who sold booze to some guy who sells drugs, especially to kids. Back before Prohibition there were legitimate brewers and distillers of spirits, etc..but the Taliban and the cartels in Mexico are not, nor have they ever been legitimate business men.

  9. sam says:

    What Drew said. Amen. The War on Drugs has been one of the most corrupting enterprises ever engaged in by a civilized country. If I’ve got it right, over half of the folks incarcerated are there for nonviolent drug offenses. How the hell much does that cost us each year? Not to mention that, while you may go in as a nonviolent offender, you stand a fair chance of coming out prepped to be a violent offender.

  10. Terrye says:

    sam:

    non violent? How many people have been robbed and killed so that some junkie could get high? Will that stop just because law enforcement gives up and decides to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking?

    I don’t know what the answer is to be honest, but the truth is that people die every day because of drugs in this country and while person can take away their freedom, addiction takes away even more.

  11. Terrye says:

    That should have been “while prison” can take a way their freedom.

    I am too lazy to preview.

  12. but the Taliban and the cartels in Mexico are not, nor have they ever been legitimate business men

    The Taliban would have radically fewer funds if it were not for prohibition and the Mexican drug cartels would have no reason to exist.

    Further, the FARC in Colombia likely would have fallen on the ash heap of history along with all the other Marxist guerrilla groups in Latin American back in 1980s if they didn’t have coca to fund their activities.

  13. sam says:

    Ah for Christ’s sake, Terrye, I was talking about nonviolent offenders, you know, people convicted of simple possession (maybe with intent to distribute). Do you really think that a proper rebuttal is to say, “Hey, there are violent offenders, too, you know.” Well, duh. Lock them up for the violent behavior. And people die every year because of alcohol in this country, and that’s as much an addiction as any thing I can imagine. The War on Drugs has done nothing but make a bad problem worse.

  14. How many people have been robbed and killed so that some junkie could get high? Will that stop just because law enforcement gives up and decides to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking?

    For what it is worth, most of the violence associated with illicit drugs comes on the distribution side, i.e., traffickers, cartels, gang, etc. fighting over profits and territory (that is, for example, what is primarily fueling the death and mayhem in Mexico at the moment).

    The insane profits that motivate this violence are the fruit of prohibition economics plain and simple.

    The worst part, however, is that we spend billions to stop people from taking drugs and yet the drug supply persists. The fundamental question becomes: are the expenditures worth it? (Espeially when one considers the fact that we are hardly winning the war on drugs).

  15. wr says:

    “While prison takes away their freedom, addiction takes away even more.”

    Really, Terrye? You believe that a person who chooses to do drugs of his own free will is actually less free than one who is held for decades in a tiny cell by the government?

    Yes, addiction takes a terrible toll, both physically and mentally, and it’s only the strong and committed who can kick it.

    But that’s their choice.

    That’s what freedom is all about. And I keep getting lectured that the ACA is actually repression because it takes away the choice of dying from cancer without treatment, or some such. That’s how much personal choice is fetishized.

    But for you, that all goes out the window when you can climb up on that moral high horse and decide that a person who makes the free choice to do drugs is “less free” than one who is forcefully incarcerated, held at pain of death, and quite possibly beaten or raped by his fellow prisoners.

    I love the right wing view of freedom…

  16. wr says:

    Oh, and one more thing — the only reason the Taliban and the Cartels are able to make so much money off illegal drugs is BECAUSE THEY ARE ILLEGAL. That’s what sets the price artificially high, that’s what keeps legitimate competitors out of their way.

    Or do you think that if marijuana was legalized, the cartels would be able to take out the tobacco companies and keep the monopoly for themselves?

  17. tom p says:

    I love this sh*t….

  18. anjin-san says:

    > How many people have been robbed and killed so that some junkie could get high?

    The reason that this happens is that drug prices are greatly inflated due to their illegality.

  19. anjin-san says:

    > Jr can buy meth at the local drug store

    Where has ANYONE advocated legalizing meth?

  20. anjin-san says:

    I find myself in complete agreement with Drew on this issue, and it is one that I have considerable experience with. The war on drugs is about funding for the police/judical/prison industry and government. Its roots go back to the repeal of the Volstead Act (which is were we got the gangsters from in the first place).

  21. floyd says:

    “I love the right wing view of freedom…”

    WR;
    How is that possible when you obviously don’t get it?

  22. anjin-san says:

    > the truth is that people die every day because of drugs in this country

    The truth is that deaths from tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs eclipse those resulting from illegal drugs by orders of magnitude. One of the functions of the war on drugs is to distract attention from the carnage being wrought by the legal stuff.

  23. wr says:

    I get it, Floyd. Freedom means I get a two percent tax cut while the family next door starves to death in the street, because I am a good person and they, as evidenced by their failure, are morally suspect.

    That’s the right wing view, expressed over and over and over again.

  24. floyd says:

    Wr sez…
    “I get it, Floyd. Freedom means I get a two percent tax cut while the family next door starves to death in the street, because I am a good person and they, as evidenced by their failure, are morally suspect.”

    Response…
    That’s a kind of dim view of freedom and of voluntary charity,…and proof once again of my assertion.

  25. anjin-san says:

    Floyd… why don’t you give us a paragraph telling us how you define freedom?

  26. Franklin says:

    Didn’t the Mexicans legalize weed a couple of years ago? If so, I can’t see it is helping.

    I have no idea if they did. But the Mexican drug cartel violence has little to nothing to do with Mexicans smoking weed. It is mostly associated with the trafficking into the United States, which is highly profitable because of our War on Drugs.

  27. Franklin says:

    Doctors and Pharacists are already asked to be hitmen….

    Let’s start with this, Floyd. I’m not sure what you’re talking about – abortion? non-existent death panels? Or maybe you’re against euthanasia? Once we get that settled, I’ll move onto your next sentence.

  28. floyd says:

    Anjin-san;
    For obvious reasons.

    Franklin;
    That’s not the salient point of my post and I’m sure you know the answer anyway.
    Suffice it to say I’m not a “Marxist”……

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtMV44yoXZ0&feature=player_embedded#!

  29. anjin-san says:

    > For obvious reasons.

    The only “obvious” reason I can think of is that you can’t really articulate one. It’s one thing to constantly use freedom as a political buzzword (one would think such a cherished American ideal deserves better, but sadly, no) it’s another thing to actually articulate what this ideal means to you as an individual.

    It gets harder Floyd, when you are not just echoing the noise machine and you are being asked to think for yourself.

  30. michael reynolds says:

    Very typical of the right wing.

    Requiring people to buy health insurance so we don’t get stuck with their bills equals Stalinism.

    Whereas putting people in prison for choosing weed over Bourbon is freedom.

  31. […] War on Drugs Reconsidered addthis_url = 'http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poliblogger.com%2F%3Fp%3D19543'; addthis_title = 'War+on+Drugs+Reconsidered'; addthis_pub = ''; Filed under: OTB,US Politics,War on Drugs | Comments/Trackbacks (0)| The views expressed in the comments are the sole responsibility of the person leaving those comments. They do not reflect the opinion of the author of PoliBlog, nor have they been vetted by the author. […]

  32. floyd says:

    Anjin-san;
    Sorry; I guess the reasons weren’t obvious .

  33. anjin-san says:

    Not obvious at all Floyd, I would think you would be anxious to share your thoughts on the subject.

  34. anjin-san says:

    Old Roger draft-dodger
    Leavin’ by the basement door.
    Everybody knows what he’s
    Tippy-toeing down there for…

  35. anjin-san says:

    > Requiring people to buy health insurance so we don’t get stuck with their bills

    Come on dude, what are you bitching about if you have to end up paying for J Tea’s health care costs? From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, that’s Jay’s position on the freedom to live without health insurance, and as an American, he should be able to live his beliefs. Or do you just love Hitler or something?

  36. floyd says:

    Anjin-san;
    You think your talkin’ to a raisin who occasionally plays LA? Well I aint wearin no toupe’.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    You know me, Anjin: I love me some Hitler. 😉

  38. Franklin says:

    It’s late here, I don’t quite know what floyd’s talking about with the hitmen comment, can someone else help me out?

    So moving onto his actual point, whether it’s the liquor store or the pharmacy, I think most of the decriminalization camp still thinks drugs should be regulated. Is floyd suggesting we want kids to have free access?

  39. michael reynolds says:

    Franklin:

    As you value your sanity, man, do not attempt to penetrate the mind of the floyd!

    Flee! Fleeeeee!

  40. Trumwill says:

    Where has ANYONE advocated legalizing meth?

    The premise of meth at the drug store is faulty, but a sincere question… what criteria does one use to legalize heroin but not meth? I’m not firmly in either camp (I’d like to try decriminalization of pot and see how that goes), but when someone says “legalize drugs” I assume that meth is included in that. Am I wrong?

  41. george says:

    The war on drugs is a symptom of the nanny state mentality – in this case its the conservative version rather than the liberal version, but its the same underlying premise: people can’t be trusted to make personal decisions for themselves.

    And its not likely to be overturned for the same reason – neither the Democrats nor the Republicans trust people to think for themselves.

  42. george says:

    “Very typical of the right wing.

    Requiring people to buy health insurance so we don’t get stuck with their bills equals Stalinism.

    Whereas putting people in prison for choosing weed over Bourbon is freedom.”

    Sadly enough, that seems to be the stand the Republicans are taking.

  43. anjin-san says:

    > what criteria does one use to legalize heroin but not meth? I

    Thats a long discussion. Short version – I don’t see any scenario for making meth legal. I would start with pot and see what results that produced. One thing about heroin is that if it is pure, it is simply not very harmful to the body. Legal morphine would be preferable to heroin if you were going down that road, a lot of very prominent people in the 19th century were functioning morphine addicts.

  44. PD Shaw says:

    anjin-san, isn’t Ainsworth arguing for legalization of meth (all drugs)? If you just legalize pot, you aren’t ending the war on drugs, you aren’t ending organized crime, and you aren’t get all the benefits implied.

    I have no problem with decriminalizing pot; I just couldn’t equate that with ending the War on Drugs.

  45. floyd says:

    Franklin;
    First of all I want to say that I deny Micheal’s assertion that I contributed in any way to his neurosis, so you have nothing to fear from me but an occasional challenge to your paradigm.
    If legalization were to go into effect, I said….
    “This sounds more suited to dramshop than legitimate medicine”.

    I am simply saying that legalizing recreational drugs should not bring them into the same status as medicine.
    It would fit more appropriately into the same legal status as alcohol…,contraindicated, yet available on a restricted basis through licensing and regulation.

    The sale of alcohol is presently restricted to adults, and the same restriction should prove just as effective with drugs.(not very)
    Of course If the product is made legal it will be advertised to the entire population, just like prescription drugs and beer are now.

    I am not suggesting free access to anyone, let alone kids. I am simply suggesting that recreational drugs , would simply be an expansion of legalized vice, like cigarettes and alcohol, and not an expansion of theraputic medicine.

    The medical profession and the pharmacies do not need additional inapprpriate duties, they are burdened enough.

  46. Franklin says:

    The sale of alcohol is presently restricted to adults, and the same restriction should prove just as effective with drugs.(not very)

    OK, now I’m understanding your reasonable point, thanks for the more detailed explanation.

  47. wr says:

    And in the spirit of the new bipartisanship, let me say I agree entirely with Floyd, that legalized drugs would/should be sold in the same way as alchohol and tobacco, and not as pharmaceuticals.

  48. G.A.Phillips says:

    Going to prison or jail is not a gateway to criminal behaviour….

    But doing any of the lesser more glamorized drugs is….

    ******* logic, use it!

  49. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***And in the spirit of the new bipartisanship, let me say I agree entirely with Floyd, that legalized drugs would/should be sold in the same way as alcohol and tobacco, and not as pharmaceuticals.*** ok then i’ll play…..

    I say we make them an entitlement and then means test the need for there use regulated by the government and we tax the rich to pay for them,

    hey……lol……….

  50. matt says:

    Floyd must of missed the various studies showing that kids can get ahold of weed easier then both cigarettes and alcohol…. I know as a kid I had an easier time getting weed then finding a 21…

    GA : You’re contradicted by none other then Pat Roberts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQi7A5MW2kQ&feature=player_embedded

    Pat is right we’re sending relatively straight people to jail to learn how to become hardened career criminals. If they are afflicted with the scarlet F (felony) we’ve also limited any potential future employment options for them even more then the effect of just being in jail..

  51. floyd says:

    “”Floyd must of missed the various studies showing that kids can get ahold of weed easier then both cigarettes and alcohol…. I know as a kid I had an easier time getting weed then finding a 21…””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    Matt;
    It’s really not very important, but how did you arrive at that comment… Just curious.
    I must admit that I have made a point to miss various studies which state the obvious,but my point is pretty much in line with your apparent idea that legalization would do little to restrict access to minors..

  52. floyd says:

    I am not seeking controversy, but it must be said that my comments above were to address a hypothetical, and were not intended to show support for, or opposition to, the legalization of recreational drugs. That is a complex argument in and of itself and there are merits on both sides.

  53. anjin-san says:

    With legalization I would actually toughen penalties for furnishing to minors.

  54. matt says:

    I don’t believe abuse by minors will suddenly be a bigger issue with legalization (easy to get already). Granted my personal experience is a bit outdated as these days high school kids seem more interested in pill popping these days (and to a lesser extent meth)..

  55. […] In preparing the syllabus for my graduate seminar on the drug war, I came across the following from the BBC:  When heroin was legal.  It seemed worth posting given the comment thread in my post from the other day (War on Drugs Reconsidered). […]

  56. […] colleague at OTB, Steven Taylor, has a post there, quoting some British sources, on the virtues of drug legalization that has garnered a significant […]