"You shall not repeat a false report. Do not join the wicked in putting your hand, as an unjust witness, upon anyone. Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong, nor shall you, when testifying in a lawsuit, side with the many in perverting justice." Exodus 23:1-2
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The first purpose of the government is to restrain and punish crime. Yet, in the United States, and in regard to poor people, it seems as though the system has stopped working. 88% of those with incomes of less than $10,000 report being victimized by crime, while less than 45% of those with incomes of more than $75,000 report such victimization (Statistical Abstract 321). There are more African American men in the custody of the criminal justice system than are in college. The system is disproportionately loaded with racial and economic minorities; the racial disparity in the criminal justice system is the worst since 1980 (Defeis 7, Skolnich 1636-1638, Tonry 475).
It is true that one of the factors of this wave of crime is the personal sin of those involved, but to
pretend that personal sin has the sole responsibility is to evade reality. Those who advocate,
cooperate, participate in, and benefit from government policies that encourage crime also share in
the guilt of the on-going crime wave, particularly those aspects related to the War on Drugs.
This could be the subject of its own dissertation, and the bibliography provides ample evidence
concerning the growing body of evidence that this social policy is causing more harm than it is
supposed to alleviate (Defeis 7). Certainly, on the basis of Catholic just war theory, it is a
miserable failure. It causes more harm than it alleviates, there are other ways to achieve the same
goals that would be more effective, all other potential means for alleviating the problem were not
explored before declaring the war, there is no serious prospect of success, and the waging of the
war produces "evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated" (Catechism 2307 - 2317,
referring to just war theory, note that I am not suggesting the Catechism makes this connection,
rather, I am comparing the war on drugs to a typical "war" and prudentially considering the
justice aspects). Based on St. Thomas Aquinas' discussion of reasonable and unreasonable laws,
it would appear that the war on drugs fails that test too.
Major effects of the War on Drugs on the poor include:
-- It provides an economic incentive for crime, and visible economic disincentives to work.
Why work for five dollars an hour, or $200 a week, when a drug dealer can make $200 a day for
only a few hours of work? (Nell 17, Hilfiker 22). There are, of course, many valid reasons for
not yielding to the blandishments of the drug market, and many do resist such involvement. But
it seems risky to reward vice with such an excellent and effective price and profit support
systems, and put honest and hard-working citizens in such a disadvantaged economic position.
-- It transfers, tax free, tremendous economic resources to criminals.
Estimates of illegal drug dollars vary greatly, but the total is surely in the several tens of billions
of dollars annually, with which the drug thugs can buy plenty of guns, ammunition, police and
politicians (Fish 15, Skolnich 1638).
-- It is driving the rapid increase in random violence.
E.g. being caught in a shootout between rival gangs fighting over drug-selling turf (Fish 15,
Skolnich 1638). We can ask ourselves: when was the last time someone was killed in a shootout
between Coors and Budweiser over distributorship rights?
-- It adopts as a specific policy the raising of the price of street drugs, based on the historical fallacy that higher prices mean less consumption.
This policy thereby knowingly and deliberately causes a tremendous increase in collateral crime,
e.g. robberies, thefts and burglaries. It seems self-evident that a junkie will do whatever is
necessary to get money for the daily fix, and the more expensive the drugs, the more crime he or
she will commit in order to get the resources necessary to sustain the habit (Tonry 4766-477,
Skolnich 1636-1638). These policies were adopted, with full and certain knowledge that the
price would be paid most heavily by the poor (Tonry 476-477).
-- It is driving the huge increase in the prison population.
In California, for example, the number of men in prison for drugs increased 1500% (1980 -
1990). In 1991, more people were in prison in California for drugs than for all offenses in 1979
-- The phrase "drugs cause crime" is a bit of a fudge, because there isn't anything in the pharmacology of drug use that necessarily causes crime.
Virtually all of the crime related to drugs is collateral damage, that is, it relates to the illegal nature of the marketplace, the lack of ordinary commercial and judicial methods of settling disputes, the need for addicts to get money to pay high prices due to escalating law enforcement activities, etc. Considered in light of prudence, and a realistic appraisal of both the proper role of, and proper limits of, government, this particular crime problem could be eliminated with different policies.
There is historical precedent. During Liquor Prohibition, gangs fought wars in the streets over liquor selling territory. Once liquor was decriminalized, that gang violence went away. When was the last time Coors and Budweiser fought a gun battle over selling their products and access to customers? This nation's drug policy is in denial of evidence going back to the 19th century that such Prohibition crusades are counter-productive of the desired result (D'Angelo 3, Skolnich 1636-1638). Edward J. Nell, the Malcom B. Smith Professor of Economics at the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research in New York City, has published a detailed economic study in Challenge magazine. His analysis of drug war policies suggests that it simply cannot be won because the government can't control inputs, interdict imports, the market is characterized by inelastic demand and very elastic production and supply (drug use is not particularly price sensitive), and that in such a situation, escalation of government violence against the market will drive a perverse effect of actually increasing the size of the market and the profits to the crime lords; he predicts this will be true of any market targeted for absolute eradication due to the economic and personal factors of such situations (14-19).
The Skolnich article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lists the following collateral casualties of the war on drugs. If a different policy is adopted (e.g. harm reduction or decriminalization), there is a potential for these collateral casualties to either be totally eliminated, or severely reduced:
* deaths from contaminated, impure, or adulterated drugs;
* crime by addicts (economic issue relating to the price of illegal drugs);
* HIV, hepatitis, TB infections may be reduced (in 1992, 26,033 new AIDS cases developed because of dirty needles, 3,576 resulting from sex with IV users, and 377 cases of pediatric AIDS were contracted from an IV using mother, totaling 30,006 or 30.8% of all new AIDS cases in 1992 alone);
* drug violence (driving the murder rate);
* damage to the social fabric of the inner cities, concentrated among blacks and Hispanics;
* racism (all races use drugs at about the same rate, but even though African Americans are only 20% of the population, 75% of those in jail for drug offenses are black);
* high rates of incarceration (US rate is higher than any other country, including Russia)
* 250% increase in the prison and jail population since 1980;
* a need for 1,000 new beds every week in the prison system;
* $150 billion in government expenditures, 1992- 1997;
* a price and profit support system encouraging drug use;
* clogging of the court system (e.g. the Baltimore, Maryland state attorney's office reports that
55% of their cases are drug cases);
If an affluent person does drugs, they generally go to a psychiatrist and buy their daily fix at a pharmacist, and then go about their daily activities under the influence of socially-approved and legal psychoactive chemicals. When the poor have the same needs, they medicate themselves by buying street drugs and are subject to arrest, harassment, and prosecution. The issue is not a "Drug Free Society", because that is not possible and it is not particularly useful to pretend that it is. The issue is who should be allowed to make the decision concerning personal medication and substances appropriate for intoxication.
It will be countered that, "People should not do drugs," and within the caveats of this section, this paper will agree. That is, if people need a drug for an illness, they should be able to get it. And in a free society, adults may exercise their personal right to become intoxicated, as long as they do not use force or fraud to violate the rights, persons, or property of other people, nor place them in danger of such harm. Which is to say that intoxication in the privacy of a person's home is one thing; intoxication while driving is another. People should not become dependent upon drug intoxication to carry out their normal activities, and should not use them as escapes from their responsibilities, or as solutions to alienation, despair, angst, and personal anguish (this is true of prescription as well as street drugs). Addiction is a deadly disease, but there is poor, primitive and questionable data to support the contention that the War on Drugs has anything to do with solving the problem of addiction, which is a medical, social, moral, and religious problem that appears to not be amenable to political, military, or police solutions.
There is evidence, however, of a sociopathic attitude among government employees and politicians responsible for this crusade. Skolnich says that some people in government feel these people should die because they are socially useless and cause problems. Nancy Reagan and former LA police Chief Darryl Gates have both said publicly that drug users should die (Skolnich 1638).
Meanwhile back at the ranch, in 1995, 80 years after the "War on Drugs" began, after sending millions of people to jail, and spending hundreds of billions on interdiction, incarceration, and other criminal justice expenditures, the DEA admitted that drug availability, and the purity of heroin and cocaine were at all time highs.
From 1984-1994, world heroin and coca production doubled; heroin is now half its 1981 street price and is 60% pure (compared to 7% pure in 1981) and the price of cocaine is down 66%. From 1987 to 1993, the U.S. gave Bolivian farmers $48 million to destroy 26,000 hectares of coca plants, which they obediently did. And then they went and planted 35,000 new hectares with coca, for a net increase in coca acreage for our $48 million of 40 percent, which is effectively a subsidy of $4,800 per additional hectare of coca planted (Falco 125).
As the damages of this policy have mounted, many voices can be heard asking for a re-evaluation of the policy. Instead of a needed public dialogue, however, defenders of the status quo have reacted with hostility and are responding with public hysteria campaigns with little room for rational discussion. Joseph Califano, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter, and a former top assistant for domestic affairs under President Johnson, in a recent article in America magazine (April 26, 1997) presents us with Exhibit A of the counter-offensive. He remarks that "opium destroyed China's advanced civilization" (never mind the western power imperialistic adventures in China). He claims that drugs were driving the growth of welfare in the late 1960s (it is curious that none of the analyses that I picked up for this paper reported this obvious-to-Califano trend, and it is curious that he didn't notice it when he was in government in the 1960s.)
Califano says that Pakistan's higher rate of drug addiction is because of the easier availability of drugs there, but these comments show no recognition of the reality that drug use is a multi-variable situation with many different factors operating together to produce addiction; availability is not always the primary issue. Cultural mores seem more determinative. Most egregious, however, is his claim that a different policy (and he lumps all the alternatives together under full-scale laissez-faire legalization) would impact the poor the most. I guess not much is happening in Mr. Califano's neighborhood (it's not likely to be a poor neighborhood anyway), but he should really wake up and smell the coffee because in case he hasn't noticed, the poor are already being seriously and tragically and negatively impacted by the war on drugs. And many of these negative impacts are caused by the policies, not the drugs. Change the policy, and the impacts will mitigate, not as a utopian vision, but as a direct result of the economic structures that drive this peculiar marketplace.
Problems will remain, drug addiction will not go away, it must still be confronted -- but with new policies, at least we could concentrate on that issue, the issue of drug abuse, and it could be addressed by strategies that actually show some promise of improvement. In the meantime, we will not have to dodge bullets and drug thug warfare in the streets. Mr. Califano seems to imply that poor people are somehow more susceptible to drug use, even though statistics show this to be a falsehood. What is he really saying about his beliefs concerning the people who are poor? Is it possible that he shares with Mr. Charles Murray a belief that he is somehow better than people who live in poverty neighborhoods? The fact is, addiction is bad. Addiction plus violence is worse.
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