Sunday, July 30, 2006

The War Against (Some) Drugs

If you think the U.S. has any intention of winning the War on (some) Drugs, think again. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not call it a war on drugs, let’s call it a war against the middle class.

To understand the rationale for the drug war, you must first understand that the drug war is not about illegal drugs, per se, but about the money that can be made from combating illegal drugs. There’s a big difference. The government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your health or your life. All it cares about is your money. Get over it, and move on.

Money! It’s always about money. Following the money trail will always lead you to the real motives behind any enterprise. Begin with the fact of illicit drugs. How does legal status affect the price of drugs? Who profits? Who loses?

The profit taking begins almost as soon as a law proscribing something—anything—that is desired by the public goes into effect. Popular demand for illegal goods creates a black market, which entrepreneurs who are less concerned with the law than they are with huge profit potential are only too glad to fill. Were it not for the law, suppliers of illicit drugs couldn’t make enough money for the activity to be worth their time and effort. A black market always drives up the price of whatever is being sold on the black market.

Let’s follow the money trail blazed by marijuana prohibition to get an unobstructed look at how prohibition creates a high-revving high-torque economic engine that, once it’s set into motion, evolves into a freewheeling juggernaut few people want to see stopped.

The money trail begins with legislators and other politicians who get political mileage out of writing or supporting anti-drug laws. By exploiting the public’s ignorance and appealing to raw emotions through the dissemination of disinformation, politicians gain popular support for anti-drug laws and the punitive measures to be used against violators. A lucrative market instantly springs into existence.

A network of growers, suppliers and dealers arises to feed the market, taking advantage of the artificial price supports created by the law. Huge profit potential makes the consequences of breaking the law an acceptable risk. It’s all part of doing business.

Soon, an anti-marijuana propaganda machine cranks up, disseminating lies that arouse public fear, hatred and resentment, with the idea of justifying the government’s expenditures of the taxpayers’ money in the cause of fighting marijuana. Ad space in magazines, newspapers and on television consume lots of anti-drug propaganda dollars.

Other anti-drug vultures that have found a way to cash in on marijuana prohibition are the drug testers (programs, clinics, equipment manufacturers, chemists), drug educators (D.A.R.E., etc.), and drug rehabilitation programs.

Moving on down the money trail, we come to law enforcement, which has its collective hand out for funds (provided by taxpayers) to apprehend marijuana users and traffickers. Drug enforcement units need airplanes and FLIR systems, canine units and SWAT teams, assault rifles and bulletproof vests, an assortment of other equipment, and extra personnel in order to catch the dreaded marijuana traffickers. If marijuana were legal, most of these expenses could be eliminated.

The next money-grubbing mitts belong to various members of the criminal justice system, beginning with lawyers. (When aren’t lawyers involved when there’s a large amount of money at stake?) And of course, judges, court officials and other functionaries of the justice system are money sponges waiting for their turn to soak up a share of the taxpayer-funded marijuana prevention bonanza.

Of course, punitive measures require prisons, the construction of which provides a source of income to construction companies and all their suppliers. Prisons need wardens and prison guards, too, and all kinds of supplies to keep the prisoners clothed and fed. With the annual cost of housing a single prisoner running between $19,000 and $31,000 (depending on location), it’s no surprise that the current U.S. prison population approaches 2.5 million prisoners. No wonder prisons are one of the fastest growing segments of the economy.

Incarceration demands parole boards and parole officers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and medical personnel. Even when imprisoned marijuana offenders are released from prison, marijuana prohibition is the gift that keeps on giving.

No one is naive enough to believe, given the high rates of recidivism, that incarceration was meant to rehabilitate convicted drug offenders. Serious study of cause and effect shows that a high percentage of non-violent first-time marijuana offenders who land in prison quickly learn the ways of the hardened criminal. Upon release they re-offend, often graduating to more serious crimes.

In their zeal to fight a problem of their own making, members of the legal/judicial system sacrifice their integrity and credibility by riding roughshod over civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. One of the most egregious abuses of power involves forfeiture laws, where law enforcement seizes property (both real and personal) of suspected drug dealers—no conviction needed, no due process required.