It looks as if Indianapolis’ murder rate will hit a record high again this year. The standard explanation for the epidemic is the prevalence of drugs in our community, and the recent "drug interdiction" traffic checkpoint netted chilling evidence of that prevalence….
It looks as if Indianapolis’ murder rate will hit a record high again this year. The standard explanation for the epidemic is the prevalence of drugs in our community, and the recent "drug interdiction" traffic checkpoint netted chilling evidence of that prevalence.
Leaving aside the constitutional and privacy concerns raised by such roadblocks, it is indisputable that despite billions of dollars spent on the drug war, the deployment of more and more police officers and the construction of more (and more expensive) prison cells, drugs continue to be a major social problem.
Or do they? Are the problems caused by drugs, or by the drug war (as Milton Friedman has long asserted)?
Civil libertarians complain that the drug war has spawned abuses by law enforcement; that in their zeal, authorities often ignore the rights of suspects. African-Americans contend that the drug war is more accurately characterized as a war on black America; despite ample evidence that most drug abuse occurs in white suburban and rural communities, enforcement efforts are virtually all concentrated in black urban areas. Doctors complain that the mentality of the drug war has prevented even the clinical study of the ameliorative effects of marijuana for certain ailments. And lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers concede that there is little sense in the legal distinctions drawn between alcohol and marijuana. (In fact, studies show a much higher link between violent crime and alcohol than between violent crime and cannabis.)
These are all real problems, but none of them is as pernicious as the fact that our flawed and irrational "drug war" policies are creating thousands of criminals.
In a recent book, "Drug Crazy," author Mike Gray documents the similarities between the war on drugs and America’s failed experiment with alcohol prohibition. The most striking data he provides is a chart overlaying the U.S. murder rate with the dates of prohibition and the drug war. Immediately following the end of prohibition, murders plummeted. They did not spike upward again until we got serious about the drug war.
None of this suggests that drugs are not a real problem, only that they are a public health issue rather than a criminal justice problem. Just as with tobacco and alcohol, we need to regulate sales to keep drugs out of the hands of children. (A change in policy can only help: a recent University of Maryland study found that, despite our "zero tolerance" rhetoric, teenagers can get drugs far more easily than they can buy booze. Tobacco and liquor sales can be regulated because they are conducted by legitimate retailers; the drug market, however, is run by outlaws.)
As Gray and others argue convincingly, the central objective of drug policy should be harm reduction, to cut the damage caused by both drug addiction and drug prohibition.
Policies that leave gangsters in control of the market create crime, cost us billions of dollars, and erode our liberties. They also don’t work.