Friday, August 04, 2006

the basic logic of drug policy

* kleiman:
"Radley Balko and I disagree about the basic logic of drug policy.

He'd prefer a world in drug consumption was fundamentally unregulated except for ordinary rules about product labeling and perhaps special rules about intoxicated activities, such as driving under the influence. I think the result of that policy would be vastly expanded drug abuse.

Radley, as a libertarian, thinks that if people choose to damage themselves, that's a problem that calls for private rather than public (i.e., voluntary rather than coercive) intervention. I disagree. We also differ on the likely extent of the increase in drug abuse from replacing the current laws with something closer to the alcohol laws; I'm confident that it would be large, and worried that it might be very large, bringing one or more of the illicit drugs (likely cocaine) to the point of being as big a social headache as alcohol is.

What Radley and I don't disagree on is that drug prohibition as now managed is hugely and unnecessarily costly, though we differ in our degree of optimism. I'm convinced that it could be made much less costly if we changed our policies about enforcement, treatment, sentencing, and the management of drug-involved offenders; Radley thinks even the residual costs would be higher than can be justified by the reduction in drug abuse.

If giving up on heavy-handed drug enforcement with lots of intrusive investigative technique, extensive use of informants, massive asset forfeitures, and quasi-military tactics risked a big increase in the drug problem, there would at least be a colorable argument for accepting the costs. (The war on the Mafia was well worth winning, and it wasn't won cleanly. Getting tougher on burglars probably means fewer burglaries.) But in fact there's no reason to think that the drug problem today is much smaller than it would be with half the drug enforcement effort, half as many dealers behind bars, and much less aggressive tactics. All we're getting from fighting the drug problem as if it were a war is headaches."

fwiw - i instinctively lean toward balko's position - although i'm only guessing because i'm not familar with the research. Kleiman is probably correct that it would lead to vastly expanded use
- the question then is whether that 'cost' is worth the other costs.

At a minimum, I'd argue that:
a) pot should be decriminalized (as I understand it, pot is no more dangerous (probably less) than alcohol) and
b) addicts should be able to get pure product, cheap, from governments.
c) drug sentencing laws need to be turned completely upside down.
d) the TWOT and the "war on drugs" are intrinsically entwined - for the exact opposite of the reasons that we are given.

point a) should be self evident - although there might some some quibbling about where you draw the line. pot definitely should be decriminalized, other stuff i'm less confident about. if one argument against pot is that it is a gateway drug, then i presume that is only because it introduces pot smokers to drug dealers. legalize it, and it will be no more 'gateway' than alcohol.

point b)
i) i suspect that something like 90+% of profits from a drug like, say, heroin comes from junkies. if you give it away for near-free, you remove the profit-incentive from dealing - which feeds all the way back the chain to the taliban
ii) if you give heroin away for near-free to junkies, you eliminate nearly all of the associated break&entry crimes (and the subsequent court and prison costs),
iii) you take the junkies off the streets (cos they are no longer broke)
iv) and you remove eliminate much of the health damage - because people arent injecting dishwashing-powder etc into their veins -
v) and you remove 90+% of the emergency medical costs. my younger brother was a junky - he was 'officially' dead something like 4 times, and separately, spent another 6 months in intensive-ish hospital care. that's expensive.
point c) should be self evident. prison is bad. long prison sentences are badder.
point d) should be self evident.


rimone said...

there's a lot i wanna say about this post but i'll only get into a tiny bit:

drug sentencing laws need to be turned completely upside down.

this so won't happen...not in the present US political climate or w/our puritanical heritage. and it would totally fuck up a crucial part of our economy--the prison-industrial complex.

'Since the 1970s the prison-industrial complex has exploded in size and continues to grow exponentially. It now exceeds $40 billion annually and rising...'

how would all our prisons thrive on only non-drugs criminals? and the icing on the cake? the system totally culls the scarey black and brown people from off our streets and that's a good thing!

fun fact: Nationwide black males over 18 are incarcerated at 9 times the rate of comparable white males, and in 11 states those rates range from 12 to 26 times the rate for whites... (from 26. april 06. 'the US gulag prison system' at

AFAIC, in light of rush limpet as well as colin powell and the rest of the ambien-poppers in DC, it's the War on Some Drugs.


rimone said...

forgot the link: the US Gulag Prison System

Anonymous said...

i highly (ha!) recommend this documentary on the history of weed and the U.S. drug war.

- Jiminy Cricket

lukery said...

rimone - yeah. of course that'll never happen. i blogged recently about the fact that the prison guard lobby was lobbying for harsher drug sentences. it makes me ill.

JC - thnx for that!

rimone said...

JC: i saw that doc a few months back--it was excellent. i loved them going through the various and changing bullshit 'reasons' weed has to be demonised in the states. the tremendous evergrowing budget to fight weed? not so much (it made me wanna retch--the entire thing is totally futile...a waste of time, money, people's lives &c).

and yeah, i highly recommend it as well, lol.

lukery said...

is it available online?

rimone said...

dude, i rented it from amazon. a quick google doesn't turn up much but i haven't looked on youtube or googlevid yet--i will if i remember. :-)

um...Lukery: 'google is your friend.' LOL

the only complaint i had about the film was that it was too damn short (80 min).

lukery said...

google? what is this of which you speak?

lukery said...

i'll try soulseek

rimone said...

google? what is this of which you speak?

lol, Lukery. *kiss*

i came back to add that if the PTB in the states really wanted to end drug abuse (or whatever it is they want to do 'for' US), barring total legalisation, they'd be behind therapy and treatment--not blithely handing out prison-time.

re Kleiman's He'd prefer a world in drug consumption was fundamentally unregulated ... I think the result of that policy would be vastly expanded drug abuse.

in England in the 60s, there were heroin programmes--where addicts could shoot up their shit in safety (Cream's 'White Room') before they kicked. i could be wrong but i don't remember reading how addicts were gaining in numbers, taking advantage of that policy. a few years later, methadone programmes were instituted in the states--as y'all may know, methadone is way more addictive than heroin but Eli Lilly (who's held the contract to supply hospitals and programmes for decades) made out like a bandit. the worst side effect? millions of former junkies (who could kick any heroin habit in, at most, 2 weeks) were strung out on methadone for years and years. i know a few of them in NYC--they're like in their 40s and 50s now and have been drinking methadone for decades cause it's just too unpleasant and painful to go w/o. then again, the US has definite laws on detoxing (as they call it). those laws are one-size-fits-all and totally inhumane (e.g., no such thing as decreasing one's dose less than 5mg at a time, even when the person has gone down to 10mg/day. the fact that going from 10 to 5mg/day decreases one's dose by 50% and so, is terribly hard on one's body means nothing.

one would almost think that the gov't/Lilly didn't want people to be drug-free.

i could go on and on...been reading about US drug and treatment policy for ages (not so surprisingly, i can remember a LOT w/o Googling. um, i wonder why?). ;-)

Lukery, if you find it, please post the link to Grass--i wanna watch it again.

rimone said...

ps, and then again, i always wondered why drug-users were the victims and not border guards and other officials whose jobs are to make sure nothing illegal gets into the country.

i'm just sayin'. :-)

notice me not touching any so-called 'root causes' like poverty, racism, marginalisation of people et al.

Anonymous said...

I found it!!!

For free online, viewable here in 2 parts.

- Jiminy Cricket

rimone said...


lukery said...

thnx jiminy - fp'd (i wont ask how you found it!)

rimone - i was wondering about heroin use in the past - in china, for example, and now in afghanistan and iran - and what the effects are of a legislation-free environments - but i was too lazy to go look.

there were some 'clean rooms' here in sydney, but the fundies got them shut down (i think)

rimone said...

i don't know about heroin use in the past or the effects of legislation-free environments but i do know that the more extractive and synthesising processes the original drug goes through, the more addictive the drug will be (from opium to morphine to heroin to methadone). you know, of course, that methadone's first name was Dolphine, named after Adolph, during WW2. but i digress. :-)

when i was a little kid and just beginning my drugs readings, i found an article (possibly in psychology today) that described a theory on addicts whose premise was that there were some people who just weren't born w/enough serotonin (or whatever) to chemically balance them out like most people are. these people were very much attracted to self-medication, especially to drugs which offer calming and dulling effects along w/a normal sense of well-being.

makes sense to me.

Kathleen said...

I've never been good at being told what to do and what not to do, so I have a congenital aversion to any gov't presuming to tell me I cannot make personal use of whatever occurs in nature. Commerical use of potentially endangered species is another issue.

My right to plant any seed that exists in nature, or to pick any plant, is God-Given(pardon the exression, Luke)not State -given, and therefore is inalienable and cannot be taken away from me, legally.

It is my civic duty to refuse to cooperate with letting the gov't tell me which seeds I can and cannot plant or use in their natural state. And I don't need
to have any medical, religious or other reason, beyond exercising my preferences.

The major problem in our drug policy is the lumping together of substances that occur in nature and are used as they occur naturally, with manufactured drugs, ones which may have started out in nature but have been processed to alter or strengthened them, for profit.

Manufactured drugs should be regulated for the protection of the public, but as long as no one is being jailed for killing themselves with cigarettes and booze, I don't think any drugs should be criminalized.

Why should I or anyone else be deprived of liberty and property because some cigar smoking, brandy snifting bureacrat has an attitude?

lukery said...

kathleen - can't wait to share a j with you.

i agree that it's absurd that cigs & 'bacco are somehow sanctioned - and others arent.

i dont really agree that manufactured drugs should have any special categorization. mdma is a gift from the 'gods', regardless :-)

rimone said...

Lukery: mdma is a gift from the 'gods', regardless

ahhhhh...MDMA (they mix it w/speed here. i tried it once in London--never again).

Kathleen, i've been reading your comments for months now and have wanted to meet you face-to-face to pick your brain (so to speak) but after reading your comments here and on the 'meet-up at the demo' thread, now i wanna more than ever. :-)

lukery said...

what do they call an mdma/speed mix in london?

it used to be quite popular here too...

rimone said...

they call it 'E' or 'ecstasy' and it wasn't--it was shite.

lukery said...

ahhh E is usually a mix of mdma and (anything)!

tis fun w/ acid

rimone said...

E is usually a mix of mdma and (anything)!

then i guess i'm totally spoilt--i first took it in 1985 and it was pure, straight from the laboratory.

ah, good times, good times. :-)

ps, it's funny how i came into it--my BF at the time had been visiting California twice a year to buy lsd to sell back in NYC. i'd just seen a news report on a clinic in Long Island which had gotten busted for MDMA and they interviewed some of the patients who'd told them (paraphrasing) 'we call this stuff Ecstasy cause it takes away your depression.'

BF called me a few minutes later and asked me if i'd ever heard of it cause the chemists were making it there and should he buy any? i was all YES! YES! YES!

and he did. :-)