Drugs Won the War

It is good to see the rise of influential voices on this subject. I am no fan of the present anti drug strategy which was flawed from inception on a purely economic basis. Instead we have conducted a forty year field test to prove that economics will always trump the rule of law. It is always dumb to attempt to manage consumption by rule of law enforcing direct prohibition rather than using regulatory control.

Alcohol is now fully managed by a regulatory system and this has worked rather well as has the system for tobacco. In fact over the past fifty years, abuse in both these substances has been in decline. It has taken effort and honest education but it has worked. I would like to give credit to regulatory agencies but that is not the whole story. It is more as if that the baby boom generation took a look at themselves and understood that a longer life was a better option. Individual decisions won that war.

All drug abuse must be declared medical and intervention must be made appropriate. Society needs to develop an attitude that the individual owes society a contribution and must be ready to serve. It may sound a little Spartan, but why not? We are no longer slamming swords into our neighbor’s guts. Of course individuals will still operate in very destructive modes but it simply needs to be harder to get away with. Our present system allows the individual to become multiply addicted and unable to recover on his own steam. That is simply wrong.
Blaming the patient for a medical condition however acquired is also very wrong but is a common fault of the medical profession. A classic example of that is to explain away chronic incurable diseases such as heart disease and obesity and diabetes as resulting from the victim’s lifetime eating habits. These habits certainly influence the development and outcome of the disease, but that they are the actual cause of the disease is actually very suspect.

Linus Pauling likely had it right when he recognized scientific work that showed humanity has a genetic flaw that is shared only with the guinea pig. We are the two mammals who fail to synthesize vitamin C. Knowing this requires no double blind testing whatsoever. Mankind and the guinea pig share exactly the same chronic disease profile just described. It is ninety percent likely that you will be suffering from this disease profile in some form or the other during your declining years.

Intervening with high doses of vitamin C is a good start and it is also cheap. Linus Pauling had built his daily dose up to 18000 mg which is quite high but starting low is quite easy and lets the digestive system get used to it. I personally started with a couple of thousand and quickly went up to 6000 and could easily take it up to 12000. Of course, I am assuming that Linus got the numbers right and I am sure he did.

In the meantime we have had an unexpected six percent drop in death rates this past year. This may well reflect the advent of the baby boomers who have taken more prudent practices to heart. Hopefully this reflects a sharp drop in lung cancer in particular.

In the event, the drug war tide is now turning and I suspect momentum is swinging the other way. Our society cannot afford the massive social tax brought on by the drug war and the direct displacement of 500,000 able bodied men and women from the work force, none of whom would be there but for the drug trade.

And a bonus will be a financially insolvent Taliban in Afghanistan. I do not think that we have a significant war of liberation left out there after the surrender of the Tamils. Thus a sea change in which petty wars fade from memory and peoples efforts focus on establishing the modern economy will be easily promoted.

Drugs Won the War


Published: June 13, 2009

This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s start of the war on drugs, and it now appears that drugs have won.

“We’ve spent a trillion dollars prosecuting the war on drugs,” Norm Stamper, a former police chief of Seattle, told me. “What do we have to show for it? Drugs are more readily available, at lower prices and higher levels of potency. It’s a dismal failure.”

For that reason, he favors legalization of drugs, perhaps by the equivalent of state liquor stores or registered pharmacists. Other experts favor keeping drug production and sales illegal but decriminalizing possession, as some foreign countries have done.

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that’s because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.

Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)

I’ve seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.

Mr. Stamper is active in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or Leap, an organization of police officers, prosecutors, judges and citizens who favor a dramatic liberalization of American drug laws. He said he gradually became disillusioned with the drug war, beginning in 1967 when he was a young beat officer in San Diego.

“I had arrested a 19-year-old, in his own home, for possession of marijuana,” he recalled. “I literally broke down the door, on the basis of probable cause. I took him to jail on a felony charge.” The arrest and related paperwork took several hours, and Mr. Stamper suddenly had an “aha!” moment: “I could be doing real police work.”
It’s now broadly acknowledged that the drug war approach has failed. President Obama’s new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, told the Wall Street Journal that he wants to banish the war on drugs phraseology, while shifting more toward treatment over imprisonment.

The stakes are huge, the uncertainties great, and there’s a genuine risk that liberalizing drug laws might lead to an increase in use and in addiction. But the evidence suggests that such a risk is small. After all, cocaine was used at only one-fifth of current levels when it was legal in the United States before 1914. And those states that have decriminalized marijuana possession have not seen surging consumption.

“I don’t see any big downside to marijuana decriminalization,” said Peter Reuter, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland who has been skeptical of some of the arguments of the legalization camp. At most, he said, there would be only a modest increase in usage.

Moving forward, we need to be less ideological and more empirical in figuring out what works in combating America’s drug problem. One approach would be for a state or two to experiment with legalization of marijuana, allowing it to be sold by licensed pharmacists, while measuring the impact on usage and crime.

I’m not the only one who is rethinking these issues. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has sponsored legislation to create a presidential commission to examine various elements of the criminal justice system, including drug policy. So far 28 senators have co-sponsored the legislation, and Mr. Webb says that Mr. Obama has been supportive of the idea as well.

“Our nation’s broken drug policies are just one reason why we must re-examine the entire criminal justice system,” Mr. Webb says. That’s a brave position for a politician, and it’s the kind of leadership that we need as we grope toward a more effective strategy against narcotics in America.

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