Should Drugs Be Legalized?
Yes- Drug Laws are the Main Cause of 80’s Crime
By: Randy E. Barnett and Tom G. Palmer
© 1989 Chicago Law Tribune
The addiction is not to drugs. It is to drug laws. The simple fact is that America's second experiment with Prohibition is ending - like the first - in complete failure at a terrible cost. Drug Prohibition has introduced millions of Americans to lives of crime and violence. Prohibition has multiplied prices on the black market a thousand fold or more, leading drug addicts to commit crimes against the rest of us - and each other - to get the money to support their habits. Prohibition has let punks get rich controlling the drug markets, corrupting law enforcement agencies in the United States and entire governments overseas in the process.
Are drug laws supposed to help the addicts? As harmful as using drugs may be to someone, being imprisoned makes matters much worse. And drug peddlers can hardly be prevented from selling adulterated and poisoned drugs that kill their customers - sometimes on purpose - leaving addicts at the mercy of unaccountable and unscrupulous suppliers.
Are drug laws supposed to protect the non-drug-using majority from the addicts? As disheartening as it may be to know that another is harming himself with drugs [or alcohol or tobacco] it is even worse to be robbed or burgled by an addict who cannot otherwise afford artificially expensive drugs.
Are drug laws supposed to keep drugs away from young people? Black-market prices and profit margins created by drug laws have encouraged sellers to seek customers among the most impressionable and gullible - our children. Indeed, children are the most effective sellers to other children. Those seeking the illegal "thrill" of marijuana are driven into contact with some of the most violent criminals our society has ever produced. There is no evidence that marijuana necessarily leads to "harder stuff," there is evidence that becoming involved with drug dealers does.
Drug laws are also responsible for the ever-increasing potency and dangerous of illegal drugs. Making comparatively benign grown drugs - like opiates - artificially scarce creates powerful [black] market incentives for clandestine chemists to develop alternative "synthetic" drugs - PCP, for example - that can be made more cheaply with less risk of detection by the police. But these drugs can be far more dangerous than the substances they replace, both to the user and to others.
Drug laws have
helped to turn cities into combat zones, as addicts rob the public for money,
dealers rob customers, customers rob dealers, and rival gangs shoot it but
over control of turf. About half the murder cases one of us [Barnett] prosecuted
as an assistant state's attorney for
Crimes are also committed against persons who seek out criminals from whom to purchase illegal drugs. In one case three young men who sought to buy marijuana from street gang members were brutally stabbed to death because, in seeking to gain the gang members' trust, they unknowingly aligned themselves with a rival gang. Strictly speaking, drug laws "worked" in this case. The gang had no marijuana for sale and the kids didn't get high.
This mess is not just a horrible accident to be solved by more money, better personnel, and tougher penalties. It is an unavoidable consequence of prohibiting conduct that is "victimless" - not in the sense that no one is harmed, but in the narrower sense that there is no victim to report the crime or to testify at the trial. This lack of a complaining victim is important for understanding the effects of drug laws.
Without a complaining victim, enforcement depends entirely on the most intrusive of police techniques - searches, drug tests, criminal informants. Moreover, with no complaint, prosecution depends entirely on police initiative and testimony, giving rise to enormous opportunities for corruption by "looking the other way." And drug busts are quite effective in enforcing the extortion of bribes.
When compared with a crime with a complaining victim, like robbery, the incentives created by making drug use illegal are perverse. Laws against robbery reduce the profit that sellers of illegally obtained goods receive by forcing robbers who take anything but cash to sell their booty at a tremendous discount. Drug laws, however, have the opposite effect. They create an artificial scarcity of a desired product. Willing buyers pay willing sellers grossly higher prices than they would without such laws.
And while the threat of punishment makes it more costly to be a drug suppler this cost is more than offset by reducing the risk of capture [payoffs to the police], by increasing the return [higher prices], and by attracting sellers who are less "risk-averse" - people who live only for today with nothing to lose if caught. That is why drug suppliers are typically evil, violent, and dangerous people, while the corner liquor store clerk is not.
With prominent politicians urging that the U.S. Army be deployed to "wipe out" drugs [inevitably resulting in the corruption of the Army], that the Air Force shoot down planes "suspected" of carrying illegal drugs [inevitably resulting in the death of innnocents], that everyone's urine be subjected to random compulsory tests [resulting in careers and lives ruined by inevitable false-positive results], and that the death penalty be imposed for sale of drugs [inevitably resulting in heightened violence against the police and their informants], it is time to question whether the next stage in our costly "war on drugs" is just another "fix," another futile effort to satisfy our insatiable and dangerous addiction to drug Prohibition.
It is time to go cold turkey. It is time to legalize illegal drugs.