Thursday, April 05, 2012

George Will Examines The Idea Of Legalizing Drugs

WaPo columnist and author George Will has an interesting piece out today examining the whys and wherefores of drug legalization. Here's a slice:

The human nervous system interacts in pleasing and addictive ways with certain molecules derived from some plants, which is why humans may have developed beer before they developed bread. Psychoactive — consciousness-altering — and addictive drugs are natural, a fact that should immunize policymakers against extravagant hopes as they cope with America’s drug problem, which is convulsing some nations to our south.

The costs — human, financial and social — of combating (most) drugs are prompting calls for decriminalization or legalization. America should, however, learn from the psychoactive drug used by a majority of American adults — alcohol.

Mark Kleiman of UCLA, a policy analyst, was recently discussing drug policy with someone who said he had no experience with illegal drugs, not even marijuana, because he is of “the gin generation.” Ah, said Kleiman, gin: “A much more dangerous drug.” Twenty percent of all American prisoners — 500,000 people — are incarcerated for dealing illegal drugs, but alcohol causes as much as half of America’s criminal violence and vehicular fatalities.

Drinking alcohol had been a widely exercised private right for millennia when America tried to prohibit it. As a public-health measure, Prohibition “worked”: Alcohol-related illnesses declined dramatically. As the monetary cost of drinking tripled, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver declined by a third. This improvement was, however, paid for in the coin of rampant criminality and disrespect for law.

Prohibition resembled what is today called decriminalization: It did not make drinking illegal; it criminalized the making, importing, transporting or selling of alcohol. Drinking remained legal, so oceans of it were made, imported, transported and sold.

Another legal drug, nicotine, kills more people than do alcohol and all illegal drugs — combined. For decades, government has aggressively publicized the health risks of smoking and made it unfashionable, stigmatized, expensive and inconvenient. Yet 20 percent of every rising American generation becomes addicted to nicotine.

So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.

Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.

Read the rest here.

Having outlined the nature of the problem,Will promises to explore solutions in a subsequent column.

One thing I hope he'll weigh in on is the 'bubble effect' he mentions in his piece...suppress drugs in one area and it moves somewhere else:

Squeeze a balloon in one spot, it bulges in another. Suppress production of poppies or coca leaves here, production moves there. The $8 billion Plan Colombia was a melancholy success, reducing coca production there 65 percent, while production increased 40 percent in Peru and doubled in Bolivia.

In the 1980s, when “cocaine cowboys” made Miami lawless, the U.S. government created the South Florida Task Force to interdict cocaine shipped from Central and South America by small planes and cigarette boats. This interdiction was so successful the cartels opened new delivery routes. Tranquility in Miami was purchased at the price of mayhem in Mexico.

One consideration to consider in light of this is the fact that not only the drug cartels but terrorist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah also finance their operations with the sales of narcotics. Take away that source of revenue and they're not likely to just cut their losses and melt away...they'll move into something else.

I'll be looking forward to seeing what Will has to say.


Anonymous said...

The so-called war on drugs is hurting America. Ron Paul 2012 or RUIN!!!

B.Poster said...

Its actually very important that we have this discussion now. Given the current cultural conditions and if they are not changed, full legalization of currently illegal recreational drugs is ineveitable within five years, assuming the country survives that long. Irs very important that we know what we are going to be dealing with when inevitable legalization happens.

"The so called war on drugs is hurting America." The media has been telling us this for years. While it is a good talking point and may be true to a large extent, what are the cossts of health care for treating the plethora of new addicts we are going to be getting when drugs are legalized? What is going to be the costs to law enforcements, security, and liberties as we are forced to deal with what these new addicts do when they have to steal to support their habit?

Those rushing to legalize drugs who control the discourse right now don't give thought to these things. Perhaps its nothing but we need to be thinking about this before we rush headlong into a major change in society like this. Unfortunately I see no evidence that the powers that be are thinking this through as they should?