Bullsh*tting Against Drug Legalization

DEA and the IACP demonstrate that the drug warriors have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have produced a document called “Speak Out Against Drug Legalization.” It demonstrates that the drug warriors, like the Bourbons at their Restoration, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. A couple of quotes will illustrate.

In opposition to the idea that legalization would help stop the carnage in Mexico, the document says:

• Criminals won’t stop being criminals if we make drugs legal. Individuals who have chosen to pursue a life of crime and violence aren’t likely to change course, get legitimate jobs, and become honest, tax-paying citizens just because we legalize drugs. The individuals and organizations that smuggle drugs don’t do so because they enjoy the challenge of “making a sale.” They sell drugs because that’s what makes them the most money.

• The violence in Mexico is a reflection of a larger battle as to whether Mexico will be governed under the rule of law, or the rule of the gun. We should take steps to reduce the killings by the drug cartels in Mexico and along our Southwest border, but suggesting that legalizing dope is going to make a difference in this effort makes no sense. The fight in Mexico is over money, and not just money generated by drugs, but for any illegal activity where profits can be made.

• Drug-related violence in Mexico is not a fight over market access or distribution chains in the United States, but the result of major Mexican drug trafficking organizations vying for control of both the drug smuggling routes leading into and out of Mexico, and transportation corridors along the border.

That is, handing criminals a multi-billion-dollar market doesn’t do anything to increase their criminal activity. R-i-i-i-i-i-ight. And of course some people are born “criminals,” and the structure of economic opportunity has nothing to do with their choices. Again, r-i-i-i-i-i-ight.

On the medical uses of cannabis, the report says:

• Scientific studies have never established that marijuana can be used safely and effectively for the treatment of any disease or condition.

Of course it’s true that no one has yet submitted to the FDA two well-controlled clinical trials showing that a specific cannabis product grown and blended under Good Manufacturing Practice is safe and effective; otherwise that particular product would be a Schedule II prescription drug. But since the DEA has forbidden anyone interested in carrying on such studies from producing the product that then might be tested, and since the one facility allowed to produce cannabis for research has no interest in developing medical products, it’s not really surprising that those studies haven’t been done. But equally of course there are good studies showing safety and efficacy for, among others, the spasm that accompanies MS, neuropathic pain, and appetite loss.

The report notes that the chief active agent in cannabis, Δ9-THC, is an approved medicine, orally administered, under the trade name Marinol. If Marinol is effective, then high-THC cannabis must be effective. The report doesn’t note that oral administration is a lousy way to take this particular drug, since absorbtion through the gut is slow and unpredictable as to timing and amount, while absorbtion through the lung is quick and reliable, allowing not only speedy relief but also patient titration. Nor does it mention the fact – otherwise beloved of the drug warriors – that a product high in THC and low in (or in this case, entirely lacking) cannabidiol is puts the user at increased risk of dysphoria and panic attacks. The report doesn’t even mention Sativex, the extract of whole cannabis now approved as medicine (in oral-spray form) in Canada and the UK, or the prospect that vaporization can deliver all of the active agents in natural cannabis to the lung without adding the mixture of hot gasses, particulates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that comes from smoking.

One slightly encouraging feature of the document is the full-throated attack on the currently licit drugs alcohol and nicotine. The report doesn’t quite go so far as proposing to do anything about the problem – for example, by drastically increasing alcohol taxation or banning alcohol sales to people convicted of alcohol-related crimes – perhaps because that might suggest that complete prohibition is not the only approach to controlling drug abuse. But at least it represents progress compared to the old drug-warrior position that legal drugs aren’t really, y’know, drugs.

Footnote If the Tea Partiers and their tame politicians were genuinely against nanny-state big government and for states’ rights, wouldn’t they favor repeal of the Controlled Substances Act? Under the theories they espouse, wouldn’t hey regard it as unconstitutional? Just askin’.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

34 thoughts on “Bullsh*tting Against Drug Legalization”

  1. I'm surprised Mark Kleiman actually published something against drug warrior rhetoric. He claims to oppose both sides of the drug legalization debate equally but rarely does (usually he defends the status quo. I know he has token views against the status quo, but he mostly wishes that drug use and distribution be punished as it is now).

    Mark, at least this is better than nothing.

    1. Bumbly, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Before you misrepresent my ideas again, please read my book Against Excess.

  2. "If the Tea Partiers and their tame politicians were genuinely against nanny-state big government and for states’ rights, wouldn’t they favor repeal of the Controlled Substances Act? Under the theories they espouse, wouldn’t hey regard it as unconstitutional? Just askin’."

    That's certainly MY position. I could wish it were more common in the tea party movement, of course, but their relative indifference is, at least, better than complaining that the war on drugs hasn't yet been extended to alcohol and nicotine…

    1. Brett, just a few hours ago you were reading us all a sermon on ends and means. If you vote Republican this year, you're voting to put a completely unreconstructed drug warrior, Lamar Smith, in charge of the House Judiciary Committee. He's so hard-line he voted against raising fixing the crack mandatory minimum. You're voting for the party that made John Walters the drug czar. They don't give a rat's patootie what you position is on drug policy: they're going to put as many people in prison as possible, because that's what they like doing. And you and the other libertarian-leaning types are just enabling them.

  3. My position too, Brett. Shows why it is reckless to stereotype even a political group. There is a strong, though not universal, libertarian bent among tea party sympathizers, and many conservatives (including the WSJ editorial board, of late) now favor decriminalization. However, I do not favor harsher taxation of alcohol and cigarettes, where taxes on those items are already confiscatory and soooo regressive.

  4. “If the Tea Partiers and their tame politicians were genuinely against nanny-state big government and for states’ rights, wouldn’t they favor repeal of the Controlled Substances Act? Under the theories they espouse, wouldn’t hey regard it as unconstitutional? Just askin’.”

    It's a fair point Mark. I would have to yes, they should favor repeal to be consistent.

    "And of course some people are born “criminals,” and the structure of economic opportunity has nothing to do with their choices."

    My view is that all people are born "criminals" (i.e., motivation is constant at birth), with some later choosing to act on this natural criminal propensity due to a constellation of factors such as low social controls, biological triggers/psychological factors, differential cultural norms, and to a much smaller degree structural factors such as differential opportunity. Positing that the structure of economic opportunity has something to do with crime is an argument based on Strain/Anomie theory, a still very popular theory of criminal behavior but with mostly weak empirical support from my reading of the literature. This is the whole idea behind Lyndon Johnson's tried and failed Great Society and the war on poverty (spawned in part by the work of sociologists/strain theorists Cloward and Ohlin). If we just eliminate poverty then people will stop committing crimes. R-i-i-i-ight.

  5. Matter of fact, Tom Tancredo, who thinks that Pres. Obama is more dangerous than Al Qaeda, wants to legalize marijuana, regulate it, and tax it. He was endorsed this week by the Tea Party Express for governor of Colorado.

  6. In fact, check out this gem from National Review, well over a decade ago:

    The War on Drugs is Lost

    NATIONAL REVIEW has attempted during its tenure as, so to speak, keeper of the conservative tablets to analyze public problems and to recommend intelligent thought. The magazine has acknowledged a variety of positions by right-minded thinkers and analysts who sometimes reach conflicting conclusions about public policy. As recently as on the question of troops to Bosnia, there was dissent within the family from our corporate conclusion that we'd be best off staying home.

    For many years we have published analyses of the drug problem. An important and frequently cited essay by Professor Michael Gazzaniga (Feb. 5, 1990) brought a scientist's discipline into the picture, shedding light on matters vital to an understanding of the drug question. He wrote, for instance, about different rates of addiction, and about ambient pressures that bear on addiction. Elsewhere, Professor James Q. Wilson, now of UCLA, has written eloquently in defense of the drug war. Milton Friedman from the beginning said it would not work, and would do damage.

    We have found Dr. Gazzaniga and others who have written on the subject persuasive in arguing that the weight of the evidence is against the current attempt to prohibit drugs. But NATIONAL REVIEW has not, until now, opined formally on the subject. We do so at this point. To put off a declarative judgment would be morally and intellectually weak-kneed.

    Things being as they are, and people as they are, there is no way to prevent somebody, somewhere, from concluding that “NATIONAL REVIEW favors drugs.'' We don't; we deplore their use; we urge the stiffest feasible sentences against anyone convicted of selling a drug to a minor. But that said, it is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states. We all agree on movement toward legalization, even though we may differ on just how far.

    We are joined in our judgment by Ethan A. Nadelmann, a scholar and researcher; Kurt Schmoke, a mayor and former prosecutor; Joseph D. McNamara, a former police chief; Robert W. Sweet, a federal judge and former prosecutor; Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist; and Steven B. Duke, a law professor. Each has his own emphases, as one might expect. All agree that the celebrated war has failed, and that it is time to go home, and to mobilize fresh thought on the drug problem in the context of a free society. This symposium is our contribution to such thought.

    –THE EDITORS

    If you're looking for mainstream support of drug legalization, the conservative movement is EXACTLY where it's been found.

  7. "Bumbly, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Before you misrepresent my ideas again, please read my book Against Excess."

    I did not misrepresent you. I know you want less imprisonment and less crime, but when it comes right down to it, you generally think the drugs that are illegal now need to stay illegal. I've heard nothing from you for even decriminalizing use except for marijuana. You wouldn't even legalize the selling of marijuana or personal consumption of hard drugs when there was no harm or foul. You're essentially a drug warrior lite.

  8. BTW Mark, I stated that you had token views against the drug war, not that you were a complete drug warrior. You do, however, agree with drug warriors more often than not.

  9. Bumbly, I'd say that Mark is not inclined to be charitable to bad drug war arguments from either side.

    He's not in favor of my favorite argument: personal freedom of choice should give a baseline default to allow folks to make their own decisions.

  10. "f you vote Republican this year, you’re voting to put a completely unreconstructed drug warrior, Lamar Smith, in charge of the House Judiciary Committee."

    Yeah, and is the Democratic alternative any better on drugs? You've had both chambers and the President for two years now, and I notice that, not only are drugs still illegal, but the 'justice' department is vowing to do what it can to frustrate state level legalization.

  11. "Yeah, and is the Democratic alternative any better on drugs? You’ve had both chambers and the President for two years now, and I notice that, not only are drugs still illegal, but the ‘justice’ department is vowing to do what it can to frustrate state level legalization."

    Well, it's less than what one would like, but there is the fact that the Feds have mainly been keeping their thumbs off the scale in CA this time around. Holder's pro-forma notification that the Feds won't tolerate open commercialization doesn't count, compared to publicity blitzes by ONDCP with canvassing by the Drug Czar and the head of the DEA.

  12. Bumbly: Calling someone a "drug warrior" (or for that matter a "legalizer") does not constitute a logical argument against their views, no matter what cable TV has taught you.

  13. Mobiusklein: “Bumbly, I’d say that Mark is not inclined to be charitable to bad drug war arguments from either side.”

    Is it coincidence that those arguments are usually from the legalization side?

    Just admit it: You don’t agree with all aspects of drug warrior policies but have much more in common with them than legalizers.

    Ryan: “Bumbly: Calling someone a “drug warrior” (or for that matter a “legalizer”) does not constitute a logical argument against their views, no matter what cable TV has taught you.”

    First, I didn’t question his views on drug policy. I questioned his claim to be equally skeptical of both sides in the drug war. You apparently wouldn’t know logic if it bit you in the ass.

    Second, if Mark Kleiman does not side with drug warriors on most issues, then where are all the drug warriors vehemently disagreeing with Mark Kleiman?

    -I have not heard from one specific drug warrior who expressed disagreement with Mark on this site or was mentioned in Mark’s writings. I have, however, heard from plenty of legalizers.

    – Mark prefers current marijuana policy to legalization: Mark would not vote for California Proposition 19 even though he prefers that individuals be allowed to grow their own.

    -Mark Kleiman has been hired by the feds in the past as a drug policy advisor.

    -If Mark was given only a choice between outright legalization and outright prohibition, which would he choose?

    Third, I don’t have cable or pay any attention to political commentators.

  14. My advice would be that if you want anyone to take you seriously, you should stop using the term "drug warrior".

  15. How about this gem, quoted directly from the above DEA propaganda document:

    "John Adams, who helped draft the Constitution and later became our second president, declared, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to govern of any other.” This means that any and all just laws must be based on moral considerations. Our elected representatives are therefore bound to legislate morality."

    I can't help but wonder whether they knew they were twisting the meaning of Adams' statement. I suspect idiocy over malice in this instance only because the actual meaning of the statement is very nearly the opposite of how the DEA interpreted it. For those of you following along at home, it actually meant: "Because our Constitution grants individuals so much personal freedom, the success of our government depends on people voluntarily choosing to act virtuously." How ironic that the DEA would rely on this quotation in their crypto-fascist propaganda!

  16. Nate: "My advice would be that if you want anyone to take you seriously, you should stop using the term “drug warrior”."

    You're dodging the issue. Mark Kleiman clearly agrees with drug warriors more frequently than he does their opponents. Drug warriors are those who wish to keep policy as it is now or intensify drug prohibition and/or punishment for drug law violations.

    Mark Kleiman is drug warriorlite. He supports no radically different policies aside from allowing individuals to grow pot for personal use.

  17. Even then, he would accept current marijuana laws over commercialized legalization as shown by his opposition to proposition 19.

  18. While bullets fly into El Paso, bodies pile up in the streets of Juarez, and thugs with gold-plated AK-47s and albino tiger pens are beheading federal officials and dissolving their torsos in vats of acid, here are some facts concerning the peaceful situation in Holland. –Please save a copy and use it as a reference when debating prohibitionists who claim the exact opposite concerning reality as presented here below:

    Cannabis-coffee-shops are not only restricted to the Capital of Holland, Amsterdam. They can be found in more than 50 cities and towns across the country. At present, only the retail sale of five grams is tolerated, so production remains criminalized. The mayors of a majority of the cities with coffeeshops have long urged the national government to also decriminalize the supply side.

    A poll taken earlier this year indicated that some 50% of the Dutch population thinks cannabis should be fully legalized while only 25% wanted a complete ban. Even though 62% of the voters said they had never taken cannabis. An earlier poll also indicated 80% opposing coffee shop closures.
    http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2010/02/pub

    It is true that the number of coffee shops has fallen from its peak of around 2,500 throughout the country to around 700 now. The problems, if any, concern mostly marijuana-tourists and are largely confined to cities and small towns near the borders with Germany and Belgium. These problems, mostly involve traffic jams, and are the result of cannabis prohibition in neighboring countries. Public nuisance problems with the coffee shops are minimal when compared with bars, as is demonstrated by the rarity of calls for the police for problems at coffee shops.

    While it is true that lifetime and past-month use rates did increase back in the seventies and eighties, the critics shamefully fail to report that there were comparable and larger increases in cannabis use in most, if not all, neighboring countries which continued complete prohibition.

    According to the World Health Organization only 19.8 percent of the Dutch have used marijuana, less than half the U.S. figure.

    In Holland 9.7% of young adults (aged 15 to 24) consume soft drugs once a month, comparable to the level in Italy (10.9%) and Germany (9.9%) and less than in the UK (15.8%) and Spain (16.4%). Few transcend to becoming problem drug users (0.44%), well below the average (0.52%) of the compared countries.

    The WHO survey of 17 countries finds that the United States has the highest usage rates for nearly all illegal substances.

    In the U.S. 42.4 percent admitted having used marijuana. The only other nation that came close was New Zealand, another bastion of get-tough policies, at 41.9 percent. No one else was even close. The results for cocaine use were similar, with the U.S. again leading the world by a large margin.

    Even more striking is what the researchers found when they asked young adults when they had started using marijuana. Again, the U.S. led the world, with 20.2 percent trying marijuana by age 15. No other country was even close, and in Holland, just 7 percent used marijuana by 15 — roughly one-third of the U.S. figure.

    thttp://www.alternet.org/drugs/90295/

    In 1998, the US Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey claimed that the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands. That’s drugs, he explained. The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics immediately issued a special press release explaining that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate.

    Here is a very recent article by a psychiatrist from Amsterdam, exposing Drug Czar misinformation
    http://tinyurl.com/247a8mp

    Now let's look at a comparative analysis of the levels of cannabis use in two cities: Amsterdam and San Francisco, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health May 2004,

    The San Francisco prevalence survey showed that 39.2% of the population had used cannabis. This is 3 times the prevalence found in the Amsterdam sample

    Source: Craig Reinarman, Peter D.A. Cohen and Hendrien L. Kaal, The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy
    http://www.mapinc.org/lib/limited.pdf

    Moreover, 51% of people who had smoked cannabis in San Francisco reported that they were offered heroin, cocaine or amphetamine the last time they purchased cannabis. In contrast, only 15% of Amsterdam residents who had ingested marijuana reported the same conditions. Prohibition is the ‘Gateway Policy’ that forces cannabis seekers to buy from criminals who gladly expose them to harder drugs.

    The indicators of death, disease and corruption are even much better in the Netherlands than in Sweden for instance, a country praised by UNODC for its so called successful drug policy.

    Here's Antonio Maria Costa doing his level best to avoid discussing the success of Dutch drug policy:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lExNjEhdSkY&fe

    The Netherlands also provides heroin on prescription under tight regulation to about 1500 long-term heroin addicts for whom methadone maintenance treatment has failed.
    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/free-heroin-bri

    The Dutch justice ministry announced, last year, the closure of eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty. There's simply not enough criminals
    http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2246821.ec

    For further information, kindly check out this very informative FAQ provided by Radio Netherlands: http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/faq-soft-drugs-
    or go to this page: http://www.rnw.nl/english/dossier/Soft-drugs

  19. While bullets fly into El Paso, bodies pile up in the streets of Juarez, and thugs with gold-plated AK-47s and albino tiger pens are beheading federal officials and dissolving their torsos in vats of acid, here are some facts concerning the peaceful situation in Holland. –Please save a copy and use it as a reference when debating prohibitionists who claim the exact opposite concerning reality as presented here below:

    Cannabis-coffee-shops are not only restricted to the Capital of Holland, Amsterdam. They can be found in more than 50 cities and towns across the country. At present, only the retail sale of five grams is tolerated, so production remains criminalized. The mayors of a majority of the cities with coffeeshops have long urged the national government to also decriminalize the supply side.

    A poll taken earlier this year indicated that some 50% of the Dutch population thinks cannabis should be fully legalized while only 25% wanted a complete ban. Even though 62% of the voters said they had never taken cannabis. An earlier poll also indicated 80% opposing coffee shop closures.
    http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2010/02/pub

    It is true that the number of coffee shops has fallen from its peak of around 2,500 throughout the country to around 700 now. The problems, if any, concern mostly marijuana-tourists and are largely confined to cities and small towns near the borders with Germany and Belgium. These problems, mostly involve traffic jams, and are the result of cannabis prohibition in neighboring countries. Public nuisance problems with the coffee shops are minimal when compared with bars, as is demonstrated by the rarity of calls for the police for problems at coffee shops.

    While it is true that lifetime and past-month use rates did increase back in the seventies and eighties, the critics shamefully fail to report that there were comparable and larger increases in cannabis use in most, if not all, neighboring countries which continued complete prohibition.

    According to the World Health Organization only 19.8 percent of the Dutch have used marijuana, less than half the U.S. figure.

    In Holland 9.7% of young adults (aged 15 to 24) consume soft drugs once a month, comparable to the level in Italy (10.9%) and Germany (9.9%) and less than in the UK (15.8%) and Spain (16.4%). Few transcend to becoming problem drug users (0.44%), well below the average (0.52%) of the compared countries.

    The WHO survey of 17 countries finds that the United States has the highest usage rates for nearly all illegal substances.

    In the U.S. 42.4 percent admitted having used marijuana. The only other nation that came close was New Zealand, another bastion of get-tough policies, at 41.9 percent. No one else was even close. The results for cocaine use were similar, with the U.S. again leading the world by a large margin.

    Even more striking is what the researchers found when they asked young adults when they had started using marijuana. Again, the U.S. led the world, with 20.2 percent trying marijuana by age 15. No other country was even close, and in Holland, just 7 percent used marijuana by 15 — roughly one-third of the U.S. figure.

    thttp://www.alternet.org/drugs/90295/

    In 1998, the US Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey claimed that the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands. That’s drugs, he explained. The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics immediately issued a special press release explaining that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate.

    Here is a very recent article by a psychiatrist from Amsterdam, exposing Drug Czar misinformation
    http://tinyurl.com/247a8mp

    Now let's look at a comparative analysis of the levels of cannabis use in two cities: Amsterdam and San Francisco, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health May 2004,

    The San Francisco prevalence survey showed that 39.2% of the population had used cannabis. This is 3 times the prevalence found in the Amsterdam sample

    Source: Craig Reinarman, Peter D.A. Cohen and Hendrien L. Kaal, The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy
    http://www.mapinc.org/lib/limited.pdf

    Moreover, 51% of people who had smoked cannabis in San Francisco reported that they were offered heroin, cocaine or amphetamine the last time they purchased cannabis. In contrast, only 15% of Amsterdam residents who had ingested marijuana reported the same conditions. Prohibition is the ‘Gateway Policy’ that forces cannabis seekers to buy from criminals who gladly expose them to harder drugs.

    The indicators of death, disease and corruption are even much better in the Netherlands than in Sweden for instance, a country praised by UNODC for its so called successful drug policy.

    Here's Antonio Maria Costa doing his level best to avoid discussing the success of Dutch drug policy:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lExNjEhdSkY&fe

    The Netherlands also provides heroin on prescription under tight regulation to about 1500 long-term heroin addicts for whom methadone maintenance treatment has failed.
    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/free-heroin-bri

    The Dutch justice ministry announced, last year, the closure of eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty. There's simply not enough criminals
    http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2246821.ec

    For further information, kindly check out this very informative FAQ provided by Radio Netherlands: http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/faq-soft-drugs-
    or go to this page: http://www.rnw.nl/english/dossier/Soft-drugs

  20. The only drug we've been able to persuade people to stop using is tobacco and it's legal.

    Regulate and tax. Earmark the revenue for quit campaigns, education and treatment.

    Affixed product warnings to packaging.

    Create minimum age laws.

    Create advertising restrictions.

    Millions of Californians have quit cigarettes. Not one of them sent to jail.

  21. "That is, handing criminals a multi-billion-dollar market doesn’t do anything to increase their criminal activity. R-i-i-i-i-i-ight. And of course some people are born “criminals,” and the structure of economic opportunity has nothing to do with their choices. Again, r-i-i-i-i-i-ight", we should be looking to create other

    For some reason, that argument is oddly popular in Mexico. Even reasonable, well-informed people seem to believe that 1) there is a fixed, predetermined number of criminals, with no reference to the prevailing set of risks and rewards of different criminal activities, and b) there is a weird sort of Ricardian equivalence, whereby any loss of income in the drug trade will be replaced, dollar per dollar, by income from other illegal activities (e.g., extortion, kidnapping), and vice versa. That belief is impervious to some of its rather obvious logical consequences: if true, a) Mexico should be calling for an increase in the demand for drugs in the US (so as to reduce the incentive to kidnap, extort, etc.) ; b) Mexico should immediately stop all seizures of drugs, money, etc. (so as to prevent the cartels from replacing that lost income from other sources); and c) for good measure, we should be looking to create new illegal markets (i.e., alcohol, tobacco). But, of course, even reductio ad absurdum is a powerless rethorical tool in the face of blind faith.

    Best regards.

  22. The authors of this screed may be exercising some projection here. The "drug warriors" have a pretty good racket going. They get to sieze assets from suspects and liqidate them for the benefit of their own organization. This is done prior to any conviction.

    More to the point there is a huge industry profiting from the War on Drugs: police, lawyers, prisons…and blogging professors. And if a chunk of that bonanza is turned legal what will happen to all those jobs.

    Somebody will have to find some other activity to criminalize. I nominate football. It promotes violence and causes brain damage and has an insidious hold on our impressionable youth. Oh yeah, it's a popular recreation for college students and is a gateway to dangerous drugs like steroids. It's perfect.

  23. Am I the only one who is a little uncomfortable with the idea of law enforcement and a public agency presenting public political opinions on this type of issue? While the individuals involved are certainly entitled to their thoughts, I would think that the appropriate role of the police and enforcement agencies is to enforce the laws Congress chooses to pass, not to advocate policy. They're not think tanks.

  24. Alejandro:

    In the short term, the loony arguments you talk about are right — like any other trades, the criminal ones are sticky, and someone who has made a pile of money selling drugs won't just say "Aha, I'll go to work as a legitimate middle manager/manufacturing worker at a tenth the wage" if selling drugs stops being an option. (There are also famous studies of doctors that show C-section and other serious-intervention rates inversely tracking OB caseloads over the shortish term.) In the medium and long term not so much, but who's willing to wait for the medium term any more?

    That's one of the reasons it's not a good idea to let you illegal sector get too big. (And even moreso in countries like the US, where a criminal record can make more legitimate employment very difficult to obtain.)

  25. If this document actually reflects the dominant culture within DEA, things are worse than I'd feared. Whatever else it means, the passage Brian D quotes pretty clearly justifies the drug war in religious terms. DEA is one of the agencies of the US government in closest contact with the realities of the Mexican drug war. That it would publish something this bad on the subject is very depressing.

    Kleiman is obviously right about the implications of Republican control of the House for drug policy. Republican voters would do well not to pretend otherwise.

  26. Paul,

    I get the point on short-term stickiness. But usually a combination of labor market stickiness and an exogenous shock leads to unemployment, not to automatic participation in some vaguely related field. After all, there is some level of specialization involved in specific criminal activities: a drug smuggler/dealer/mule probably cannot reconvert himself overnight into a kidnapper or bank robber; some measure of retraining might be required. Also, drug trafficking is a particularly lucrative activity, as well as being relatively low-risk (given the fact that it's a transactional, not a predatory, crime); other criminal activities, not so much. Thus, the risk-adjusted and thrill-adjusted income from legitimate or semi-legitimate employment (e.g., selling counterfeited goods in a street corner) might not be all that different from the available income deriving from most non-drug criminal activities. As far as I know, low-level members of the drug cartels are not consistently paid ten times the going manufacturing wage in most regions where they operate.

    I agree, though, that ultimately this is an empirical question. However, for the life of me, I cannot think of any example where the elimination of an illegal market as a result of an exogenous shock (e.g., legalization, trade liberalization, elimination of price controls, etc.) led to an overall increase in violent crime rates. Post-Soviet Russia, maybe? I don't know the case very well, but it seems to me that the rapid collapse of state authority might be a better explanation for the crime wave experienced in that country after 1990 than the elimination of the illegal markets that flourished under Soviet rule.

    Anyway, thank you for making me think hard about the argument.

    Best regards.

  27. I'm pretty sure Rand Paul has insisted that drugs are a local matter, and the federal government ought to leave the issue up to states. (Seem to remember that in the newspaper when I was in KY visiting my parents, so no linkable source.)

  28. I'm pretty sure that the Tea Party could be considered fairly muddled on the issue (they have lots of people on both sides, even pretty high up). Which means that they are drastically better than either the Democrats or traditional Republicans on the issue since both of the major parties are still in the midst of an orgy of drug warriorism.

  29. Alejandro:

    I agree with you that it's ultimately an empirical question, but I think you may be looking at the stickiness at the wrong level. (And I may have a mistaken impression of the industrial organization of drug/crime gangs.) What I'm assuming is that a) the leaders (and middle managers) of criminal organizations will want to maintain their income and lifestyles and b) gangs are organized in ways that make it difficult to simply lay off associates when economic conditions warrant. (In particular, as long as there's still some business remaining, you don't want to turn people with guns into competitors rather than employees.) It's certainly been the case that other criminal organizations have moved into and out of various kinds of enterprises as markets wax and wane.

    What this suggests to me is that thought might be given to the kinds of enterprises, "legit" or otherwise, that gangs might be wanting to move into.

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