Tuesday, July 15, 2008


So in continuing in the worst-problem-in-the-world series, a police officer tells me that drugs are the worst problem in the world. He further claims that drugs are directly responsible for 90% of all crime in his precinct.

I can believe his claims. US law bans quite a number of drugs that many people want to take anyway. When a person becomes addicted to them, they cost quite a bit of money, due to the expenses of smuggling and so forth, but most conventional and legal ways of earning that money dry up. Addicts feel compelled to turn to illegal activities, such as stealing, to keep up. Further, disputes between people involved with drugs cannot turn to the police for resolution, as the law bans even possessing the drugs, so such disputes are resolved with violence.

The obvious solution would be to cease to ban the least dangerous drugs, but there is little political capital for this. It's difficult to sympathize with people who commit lots of crime, and quite a few systems depend on government financing for fighting the drugs. Many police departments rather enjoy the new habit of asset forfeiture, in which they can take things from people who commit drug crimes and sell them to finance other operations of the department.

So the next best solution is drug treatment. There are centers where an addict can go, where they will be given a substitute drug, with decreasing dosages per day until it becomes zero, to wean them off the drug, and therapy, to treat the condition that lead to the use of drugs in the first place. These places are quite successful. Unfortunately, all known ones in the US are currently full. Expansion would require significant additional funding.

If we want to do this, we have to consider treatment to be less costly than the status quo, which is currently costing billions in court fees, prison expenses, and additional crime and lost productivity.

Non-American commenters: What is the state of narcotics in your own country, and would legalization or treatment work there?

1 comment:

Cairnarvon said...

Possession of limited quantities of marijuana is legal here, as is the consumption thereof in private places. Medical marijuana has always been legal, AFAIK.
Pretty much everyone agrees it's a good thing. It's less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, and outlawing it just means the police have fewer resources to deal with actual crime (especially as our laws against unreasonable search and seizure are actually enforced, so asset forfeiture is never a major source of income).

It's worth looking into the Great Binge and why it ended (you'll probably need to go beyond Wikipedia for that). The short of it: no good reason.
Addiction can have terrible effects on a person and society, but outlawing the addictive substances only exacerbates those problems in the vast majority of cases. The Prohibition created more alcoholics in the US than there would have been otherwise because it became impossible to just be a casual drinker, and outlawing, say, heroin, makes it much less likely that heroin addicts will seek medical help on their own.

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