Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Drugs and Thugs: What To Do? 

In the weekly "Americas" (link probably available to subscribers only) op-ed in the 28 April issue of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady postulated that the United States' prohibition of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana has given rise to a powerful criminal thugocracy in Mexico and other Latin American countries, just as prohibition of alcohol in the United States gave rise to such worthies as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Detroit's Purple Gang and, of course, the Mafia. The problem is getting so bad in Mexico that there are fears that drug money will influence the upcoming presidential election. O'Grady's final paragraph is telling:
The question is not whether dangerous drugs are innocuous. Let's agree they are not. The question is which policy is best to manage the problem. We can't make that calculation until we face honestly all of the costs of prohibition and the suffering of our neighbors. (Emphasis in original.)
This is not a new issue. People have been talking about how best to deal with the drug problem for decades. It should be obvious to anyone that whatever we've tried over the years hasn't worked, despite the heroic efforts of the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs, the FBI and hundreds of state and local police agencies. Drug use is still a problem in the US, and the addicts commit all kinds of crimes to get the money they need to feed their habit, not to mention the pressure they put on public health facilities when they OD or get sick because of poor nutrition and hygiene.

Although she isn't explicit, it appears to me that O'Grady might be in favor of legalizing, or at least decriminalizing drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana, in order to bring the price down to a level where users don't have to commit so many crimes to afford their drugs, and the profit from selling the stuff isn't worth the risk to the smugglers. This is, I think, what the recently derailed law in Mexico was trying to accomplish, but the language of the statute was reportedly so loose that it amounted to total deregulation of the recreational drug trade.

I might be in favor of decriminalization under certain circumstances, to wit: taxpayer funds would only be used for programs designed to diminish the market for drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana, and to shut down any nonsanctioned dealing in such drugs, and there would be severe legal consequences associated with using such substances. Here's a rough scenario:

Drugs would be dispensed free or for a nominal cost by the government, but only to persons who undergo a blood test to verify the existing use of the drug. Persons who are "clean" would not be given any drug. Drugs would have to be consumed on the premises of the drug clinic. Anyone else dealing or distributing drugs would be subject to major criminal penalties.

No taxpayer funds would be spent for acute medical treatment of any conditions caused by or related to a person's drug use. If someone wants to commit suicide by OD, let 'em. It's harsh, but I guarantee such a policy would reduce the demand for drugs. Public money would be directed only to detox and rehab programs designed with the goal of eliminating the market for drugs.

To go along with that, laws should be enacted imposing strict civil liability on persons who commit torts while having any such drugs in their bloodstream, and making the presence of drugs an aggravating factor for any crime committed by a user, leading to more severe sentences and mandatory drug rehab. Some changes might be required in evidence rules, especially as regards proof of dealing or distributing. Also, a strong and consistent antidrug education program that emphasizes the fact that using equals suicide, both socially and literally, in terms that kids and teens will understand and, most importantly, internalize.

I have no illusions that what I propose would solve the drug problem, I only mean to illustrate the kinds of things that would be necessary to have my vote for decriminalizing these dangerous and evil substances. (If you don't think they're evil, talk to some victims.) Most importantly, the fact that we've not as a society done anything to solve the drug problem but "more of the same" for the last 50 years suggests either that we are not serious about it, or that we don't really think it's a big enough problem to worry about.

I liked your line in one of the blogs linked to Instapundit about the 'lamestream media.' Was interested in your link to O'Grady, which I think I found in a free site, not sure becuse I subscribe to wsj. Anyway have some comments about this issue in my latest blogpost. One thing that won't happen is that people coming in to hosptials with overdoses won't be 'allowed to die.' That would contradict other regulations, besides, even if changed, one couldn't be sure enough of the etiology in a timely manner to go with an isolated provision. Thanks for the topic.
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