Friday, December 09, 2005

Jihad and the Dope Trade

 
Opium poppyThe war against the Great Islamic Jihad is not a static one. Our armed forces and intelligence agencies learn from experience and design new techniques and technologies to meet the requirements of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.

Our enemies are adapting at the same time. The Islamic zealots behind the current war are developing new strategies to counter the efforts of the Western powers. As Middle Eastern governments crack down on the Islamic “charities” under pressure from the United States and its allies, the mujahideen in various Islamofascist terrorist groups find themselves suffering from a lack of funds.

To compensate, the jihadis are adopting creative alternatives. One of the most lucrative examples is the heroin smuggling business.

An article by David E. Kaplan in last week’s U.S. News and World Report, Paying For Terror, outlines the extensive Islamist smuggling enterprise that has grown up around the Afghan heroin trade:
     And if al Qaeda itself is staying out of drugs, its allies certainly are not. The booming drug trade has given a strong second wind to the stubborn insurgency being waged by the Taliban and Islamist warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Both the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami army control key smuggling routes out of the country, giving them the ability to levy taxes and protection fees on drug caravans. Crime and terrorism experts are also alarmed over the corrosive, long-term effects of all the drug money, not just within Afghanistan but across the region. The ballooning dope trade is rapidly creating narco-states in central Asia, destroying what little border control exists and making it easier for terrorist groups to operate. Ancient smuggling routes from the Silk Road to the Arabian Sea are being supercharged with tons of heroin and billions of narcodollars. Within Afghanistan, drug-fueled corruption is pervasive; governors, mayors, police, and military are all on the take. A raid this year in strategically located Helmand province came up with a whopping 9 1/2 tons of heroin--stashed inside the governor’s own office.
The smuggling routes lead from landlocked Afghanistan to the south and east through Pakistan, to the west through Iraq, and to the north through central Asia. Throughout the region the amounts of drugs seized are jumping, along with rates of crime, drug addiction, and HIV infection. Particularly hard hit are Afghanistan’s impoverished northern neighbors, the former Soviet republics of Kirgizstan and Tajikistan. Widely praised demonstrations in Kirgizstan this year, which overthrew the regime of strongman Askar Akayev, have brought to power an array of questionable figures. “Entire branches of government are being directed by individuals tied to organized crime,” warns Svante Cornell of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “The whole revolution smells of opium.”
Neighboring republics are little better off. Central Asia’s major terrorist threat, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has largely degenerated into a drug mafia, officials say. In Kazakhstan the interior minister tried to investigate corruption by going undercover in a truck packed with 9 tons of watermelons, motoring 1,200 miles from the Kirgiz Republic to the Kazakh capital. His team had to pay bribes to 36 different police and customs officials en route--some as little as $1.50. (Others merely accepted their bribe in melons.) The cargo was never inspected. What is happening in Iran, meanwhile, is “a national tragedy,” according to the U.N.’s Costa. So much Afghan dope is being shipped into the country that it now has the world’s highest per capita rate of addiction. The ruling mullahs in Tehran have taken it seriously; Iranian security forces have fought deadly battles with drug traffickers along their border, losing some 3,600 lives in the past 16 years. But even as their troops fight, the corruption has reached high officials of the Iranian government, who are using drug profits as political patronage, sources tell U.S. News. “There are indications,” says Cornell, “that hard-line conservatives [i.e. the mullahs] are up to their ears in the Afghan opium trade.”
Step back a couple of paces and look at this situation:

  • Our enemies are funding their struggle against us by trafficking in heroin and other illegal drugs.
  • The trade in heroin is so lucrative that corruption is inevitable.
  • After four years of occupation by American troops, the heroin trade in Afghanistan has not been curbed; it has ballooned.
  • The customer base for the heroin trade lies principally in the United States and other affluent Western countries.

The obvious question is: If four years of occupation by the American military cannot interdict the supply of illegal drugs, what possibly could?

This failure refutes the current wisdom that drug use can be controlled by:
1. making drugs illegal, and
2. attempting to cut off the supply.

Neither solution has ever worked.

Consider this: if heroin (and other drugs) were no longer illegal, but were simply regulated by the government as are alcohol and tobacco, if an addict’s fix were $2 instead of $40, how would that affect the funding of terrorist enterprises?

Before the comments and emails come down on me like a ton of bricks, let me hasten to say that an initial increase in the addiction rate is a certainty, if drugs were legalized — look at what happened when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. But the increase in heroin addiction would not lead to an increase in the crime rate. At present, heroin users commit crimes — muggings, burglaries, etc. — to pay for their fix.

As heroin consumption stabilized — much like alcohol before it — its use would confined to those who employ mind-altering substances to self-medicate.

But would that human toll be worse than the consequences of our current policies?

  • We imprison thousands upon thousands of users and low-level dealers, thereby turning them into hardened criminals.
  • We enrich the kingpins of crime as our users pay the inflated prices created by keeping drugs illegal.
  • We turn addicts into muggers and burglars and murderers in order to feed their habit.
  • We enable cynicism and corruption as the drugs continue to flow and police forces, officials, and whole governments are bribed and bought off and extorted by the drug barons.

On the other hand, how many 7-11 clerks have been shot by cigarette addicts cleaning out the cash register to pay for their fix? How many governments are corrupted by the trade in illicit alcohol?

It’s time to reconsider the havoc we wreaked with our “War on Drugs.” It is a war every bit as successful as the one we waged on poverty, and both “wars” have done more harm than good.

This is not to excuse or promote drug addiction. We must recognize the limits of what can reasonably be done by mere human beings. Attempting to stifle the addictive aspects of human nature is an exercise in futility. We simply cannot do it.

Go ahead and flame me. But remember this: when Johnny Dopefiend pays for his latest fix, his money eventually works its way into the pockets of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his comrades in jihad.

Is this what we want?

Afghanistan poppy field

42 comments:

Adaneshju said...

Sad thought--but what else can one realistically do in Afghanistan? All connections to terrorism etc aside, the land is poor, there are few natural resources, education is nill, tourism (as of yet) is practically non-existent.. People have very little to do that can give them money. I'm neither justifying this nor ok with it, but as long as the situation remains like this, people are going to flock to growing poppy.

Baron Bodissey said...

Adaneshju -- they wouldn't be so interested in growing poppy if Americans and Europeans were not paying top dollar for it. If opium and its derivatives were not illegal, growing poppies would pay no better than growing soybeans. They would still be grown, but the economics of growing them would not be so distorted.

And terrorists would not be enriched by the trade.

linearthinker said...

I agree with all your points, as usual. m.simon has posted numerous times arguing for decriminalization and a sane approach to drug policy.

linearthinker said...

The political will to take the obviously sane approach is what is lacking in our spineless leaders.

Adaneshju said...

Baron--for one thing you assume that legalization in America and Europe would make a dent in the worldwide market? Possible, but probably not likely.. As a second point, today, in America, which is more profitable, on an acre to acre basis--tobacco or soy beans? Thirdly, we witness black markets everywhere there are products and non-completely free trade--black market cigs, etc. Would be not different in this case.

Finally, though I am libertarian leaning in many ways, I don't personally support drug legalization. I wonder what the cost of having thousands, tens of thousands, if not more, drug addicts would do to our economy? Seems a high price to pay, for me.

The way I see it, the Afghans have always grown poppy, they grew it before Islam, they grew it while the Taleban was there (though at lower levels AFAIK) and they'll grow it after we're gone. (to clarify in addition, the war on drugs IS stupid)

The only thing we can do is--exactly what we're doing. Try to make Afghanistan worth a damn. I must say that we've had a considerably better track record here than the Brits and the Russians..

Uncle Pavian said...

The problem is, the drug trade is run by criminals. There's no reason to think that corrupt officials will voluntarily give up their illicit income once the drugs are legalized. Likewise, once governments start coveting the tax revenue from the formerly contraband traffic, the problem for the traffickers becomes one of evading taxes. The whole system of criminality remains in place and is unlikely to go away. If it's not based on drugs, it will be based on something else.
Giving up sounds like the Democrats' solution to the war in Iraq, a variation of the argument that goes, "Screw it, we might as well let 'em. The country's going to hell anyway".
I would not have expected to hear that line of reasoning coming from Go'V.

dirty dingus said...

The more I look at it the more I feel that legalizing and regulating drugs is the only way forward. I admit it won't be perfect but I simply don't see

One thing done in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) is "decrimminalization" for personal use which gats you the worst of all possible worlds. I wrote about this in part at my blog a couple of weeks ago

dirty dingus said...

Somehow a sentence or two got chopped in my pervious post.

Shoud be: I admit it won't be perfect but I simply don't see how it can make things worse because of how it seems bound to reduce criminality. It also allows the world to give aid to Afghani/Colombian farmers and the like by buying poppies/coca direct at (probably) a higher price than they can get from the drug dealers.

Baron Bodissey said...

Well, I knew this would be a controversial one. I'll try to take on everybody's points.

Adaneshju -- after legalization, poppies would still be very profitable, more so than soybeans. But the demand for soybeans is much higher, and both would be grown to the extent required to supply demand.

As far as a black amarket is concerned -- I'm sure there will be a black market, as in cigarettes. But when drugs are legal, black market prices will have to be lower in order to compete. And that, once again, will reduce the amount of money going to terrorists.

If the taxes are kept low enough, the black market will have a hard time competing. It is the grotesque size of the federal tax on cigarettes that makes illicit tobacco profitable for smugglers.

As for the social cost of the additional addicts, I would like to see a real, thorough, acedimically-compiled comparison between the the effects of the new addiction and the existing effects of making mostly harmful people into criminals, the number of deaths and traumas caused by drug crime, and the funneling of untold billions of dollars into the pockets of already dangerous and criminal people.

Demonstrate to me that the cost of legalization would be greater (and that includes the removal of terrorist funding, which is what tipped the balance for me into making this argument), and I will change my mind.

Baron Bodissey said...

Uncle Pavian -- see my argument about taxes above. It is true that the taxes on drugs will cause criminally-minded people to smuggle them and make money by selling tax-free contraband versions.

And the hardened criminals will remain hardened criminals once drugs are legal. But it will be that much more difficult for them to turn a profit.

The main point is that the profits for doing business the new way will be so much lower that it will make massive funding of terrorist enterprises with them much more difficult.

People make money selling contraband cigarettes, but it doesn't make anyone into the Pablo Escobar of tobacco.

As for your last point -- that is where I really disagree. We're saying "screw 'em" about the Afghanis when we allow them to turn into criminal and corrupt people. Letting Afghanistan become like Venezuela and Colombia is not a compassionate solution.

It would be very difficult for Afghanistan if it suddenly found itself free of its major economic mainstay, but, in the long run, the country would be better off.

Baron Bodissey said...

None of this is to say that drug abuse isn't immoral, or that it doesn't harm the addicts and their families. It does, and the damage is immense.

But if the last forty years haven't taught us that the cure is worse than the disease, nothing will. We simply can't stop the drug traffic.

Attempting to do so has done more harm than good, has damaged uncountable thousands of lives, enriched criminals in a way that would not otherwise be possible, and turned otherwise harmless people into criminals.

It's a hard lesson to learn, but it's true.

Uncle Pavian said...

Ok, let's say that we can't stop the drug trade, and the best way to deal with it is to give up.

We can't stop prostitution, either. Nor can we stop homicide, teen age pregnancy, littering, tax evasion, people parking next to fire hydrants or any of the other behaviors that we currently prohibit.

If we accept the idea that we can't solve a problem, therefore we might as well not bother to try to deal with it, then we have to look at why we should bother to enforce any laws at all.As Monty Python pointed out, "The only way to bring the crime rate down is to reduce the number of offences."

who, me? said...

In conservative mode, we might ask about the unintended consequences of this apparently good idea. If crime bosses will remain crime bosses, what worse, or at least new, kingdoms of evil might arise?

And the legalizing of anything addictive opens the gates on marketing to increase the market.

I don't have a good solution, but can't climb on board with "Let the heroin flow." Intractable dilemma, I think.

I think of Mark Shea's summary of the sorrier chapters of man's history:
1) "What could it hurt?"
followed eventually by
2) "How could we have known?"

st said...

You ask: If four years of occupation by the American military cannot interdict the supply of illegal drugs, what possibly could?

The answer is, Joe Average make a far better living growing heroin and opium than food crops. They can feed their families and live comfortably, so that's what they grow. U.S. forces want the support of as much of the populace as possible, so it's U.S. policy to leave the drug trade alone. The answer is, in other words, that the U.S. does not even try.

There are good reasons to handle it this way, but as you point out, there are also good reasons to crack down. Which is the British position. Brits, with a much longer history in the area and much less patience, are more inclined to go in with helicopters and napalm and be done with it. This, of course, would make lots of locals angry and possibly drive them into the arms of the Taliban/Islamists/thugs. Either way, Bad Things result.

The U.S. vs. British disagreement over how to handle the drug trade has been a source of considerable friction within the NATO mission. There are enough pros and cons to each approach that it seems no one really knows what to do.

The new Afghan Constitution, by the way, explicitly provides that Shari'a is the sole source of law, and another provision says that any part of the constitution may be amended except that one. Bottom line, Afghanistan has long been a lawless tribal backwater, and will probably always remain one, heroin or not.

Baron Bodissey said...

Uncle, you're engaging in a reductio ad absurdum here, as a well a categorical error.

If there were a really huge demand for murder, a widespread desire to murder people, we wouldn't be able to control it. Murder would become a way of life, law or no law.

If laws against littering were causing billions of dollars a year to flow into the hands of terrorists, then, yes, I would be in favor of legalizing littering.

The drug problem is different from most problems addressed by the law. We think addiction is bad, so we make the drugs illegal, but people want them anyway. The demand stays high no matter the illegality.

Think of all the pot smokers you know. I used to be one in my youth, but even then I was otherwise a law-abiding person. I know many people who fit the same description. People want to smoke pot, and they go ahead and do it. Mostly they do no harm, though some get addicted and thus become less productive citizens.

Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that 25% of the population has at least tried illegal drugs. That's 75 million people. That's a lot more than those who litter or patronize prostitutes. Do we really want to criminalize behavior by such a large proportion of the population, when that behavior otherwise harms only the people who do it?

And, yes, I recognize the damage that addiction can cause to the families of addicts. But the same is true of alcoholism. We wisely decided not to keep alcohol illegal, after seeing how Prohibition created an entirely new industry of crime.

We've done the same thing with drugs. After a century of prohibition and 25 years of stringent enforcement, we are no closer to solving the problem.

It's time to stop diverting all that money to bad people, since we cannot accomplish our goals with what we're attempting to do.

Baron Bodissey said...

who, me -- We are already living with the unintended consequences of our drug policy, namely the funneling of billions of dollars into the coffers of the Great Jihad. That alone is reason enough for us to change what we're doing.

Remember, Prohibition created the Kennedy family fortune and changed the history of our country. How's that for unintended consequences?

Baron Bodissey said...

st -- you're probably right that Afghanistan will remain a lawless tribal backwater. But I don't see the advantage of allowing the tribal chiefs to become unbelievably wealthy terrorist leaders.

Take the trade in illegal heroin away from them, and their power to do us harm decreases by a couple of orders of magnitude.

It would be like the Saudis without oil.

Dymphna said...

Anecdotal evidence is not much use here, but I'm going to speak to it anyway, since I have thought about it my whole life.

My father was a heroin addict. He was in and out of the govt drug hospital in Kentucky, trying his damndest to get free of the monkey. Unfortunately, he never was able to break away long enough to maintain any kind of life.

I have no idea who he stole from besides my mother and his sister. Probably others. And no doubt he had a criminal record for his heroin use. He received a dishonorable discharge from the service for it.

But he was a gentle man, soft-spoken and sad. In a last, desperate attempt to "cure" the problem he found a neurosurgeon willing to perform a lobotomy to take away a compelling need he could not otherwise control. He told the doctor that he wanted to be a decent father and husband -- that was his motivation for the surgery. Back then, it was going to be the new miracle method for his addiction.

They were right, it worked like a charm -- he was no longer addicted. But it also took away his 160 IQ and any moral judgment he had left after 25 years of living in shame.

They think my father was one of those instant addicts: he had an emergency appendectomy while a student at LSU and the relief from his mental suffering that was a side effect of the pain killers was so great that he removed his surgical stitches to get more morphine....and it was downhill from there.

He was from a wealthy, prominent family in Ireland who eventually disowned him, leaving my mother with a husband in a mental hospital for life and two children with no means to support them. So we went to foster homes, etc., and she rented our house to raise money while she worked as a saleswoman. Our family was separated from the time I was three until the age of ten, when I was considered old enough to be a "latchkey" kid...so I got to come home. I remember telling myself at the age of six, "only four more years..." Luckily, a six year old can't really comprehend what that means.

I wish heroin had been legal. I would have had a doped-up dad, but that would've been okay. There would have been sufficient money because he wouldn't have gone through all of his at the stupendous prices he had to pay for his habit.

A woman being released from prison for pot use whom I befriended when she was hospitalized told me that she's tried all the anxiolytic drugs available and that pot is the only one which helps her function. She's an excellent horsewoman and has a good job at a stud farm. It's good that they don't care about her past. She has accepted the fact that she may get "caught" again, but it's a risk she's willing to take in order to keep going.

When I told her about my father's experience, she said my intuition was correct, that she knew several heroin users whose families supported them and that they function okay. Not at the level of their potential, but their families remain intact and life goes on.

Do you remember that governor out west somewhere whose wife was dying of spinal cancer some years back? I forget his name, but he got illicit drugs for her during the last part of her ordeal so that she could remain present for him and his family. When it was all over, he went public, with a plea for the legalization of drugs.

If I am ever in that man's position I will do the same. When I had chemotherapy several people offered to help me with pot, but the drugs the docs gave me were sufficient. Of course, they were two hundred dollars for three of them, so if we didn't have insurance, I would've had a hard choice there...

...and when a friend died from the metastasis of her cancer, the middle period her dying was greatly relieved by pot. At the end, she simply needed morphine, which fortunately the hospice people gave her -- or some version of it.

I believe that the economics of the problem are driven by the need governments have to tax things in order to raise ever more money in order to expand more. Taxes on cigarettes, gas, alcohol, food, etc., don't stop us from buying and using them. They simply add to the coffers of the Big, Unfriendly Giant our government has become. And as Hillary has so famously put it, they need to take more away from us "for our own good."

Making alcohol legal again was the smartest move the government made in this area. Yep, there are plenty of alcoholics. Approximately five percent of people who try alcohol will end up having a problem with it. But its illegality didn't stop that five percent from procuring it back then, it just made a lot of criminals rich. It was the realization of how much revenue it was costing the goverment that made repeal possible.

Some generations from now we will seem barbarically punitive for all this. And I agree with them ahead of time because I know the deep propensity for addiction that runs through my family's genes.

But that issue is for another argument.

Heloise said...

Great post, Baron. I think the war on drugs has been a sham, a black hole for our tax dollars and has produced a new breed of international thugs as well as jihadis. Also, it would free up manpower to help with the jihad that's being waged on us. So whom do I vote for? William Buckley is the only conservative I know who's gone on record with this view.

Heloise said...

dymphna, thanks for telling your story and reminding us of what actually takes place on the ground and not in someone's head, rolling around the pro's and con's of this debate.

tattycorum said...

Regarding the drug situation in Iran, I read somewhere that the mullahs actively encourage drug addiction. Makes the population more acquiescent, less likely to revolt.

linearthinker said...

So, what's to be done?
My following comments are based on recollections and opinions, and haven't been fact checked, so take them as such.

California passed the medical marijuana initiative, only to have it reversed in federal court. This would, I believe, be the famously liberal 9th Circuit.

Perhaps on the judiciary level, securing more federal judges who would follow the Constitution instead of interpreting it would be a start, Supreme Court included.

Big pharma and the majority within the medical community are probably solidly lined up in support of the status quo. No help there, at present, but perhaps some current research will prove persuasive. M.Simon has more passion and energy for presenting these facts than I. Check the link I provided earlier.

Law enforcement and the corrections industries seem to be pretty much entrenched behind the current status quo as well. I suspect searching for support for drug reform within the law enforcement community would be as productive as seeking muslims who would speak out against the the excesses of Islam, and for fundamentally similar reasons.

I wouldn't expect any support from the religious community. Period. I hope I'm wrong, but doubt it.

The most direct solution would seem to be by enacting federal law reform. I'm skeptical our feckless Senators and Congresspeople have the spines to do the right things, no matter how compelling the evidence.

A continuing drum beat for reform, echoing from the grass roots level, will take time, but seems to me to offer the only long term solution.

The parallels between Prohibition and the current war on drugs seem so obvious. It wouldn't take an amendment to the Constitution to turn things around, either.

Thanks for shining some daylight on this issue.

Jesse Clark said...

I've been in favor of this for years. At least to me, the economics of it just make sense.

As for the social impact, an increase in the number of addicts is of no consequence to me as long as they aren't having to commit crimes to pay for a fix.

Call me cold and heartless, but I've always believed that everybody is responsible for their own actions.

metaphysician said...

Okay, on this topic, I'm definitely sympathetic. Certainly, the War on Drugs has gone all out of control.

However, I think there's another unforseen consequences that is often not adequately considered. Specifically, in any legalization attempt, the preeminent producers for the non-domestic drugs ( cocaine and opium derivatives ) are the existing criminal establishments in South America and Asia.

If you legalize those drugs, than either:

-You need to set up an alternative supplier in the region *without* having them get killed by the existing, totally lawless groups

-Set up an alternative supplier someplace else. . . except if this were readily possible, the drug organizations would probably already have done so

-Buy the drugs from existing suppliers, in which case you have turned totally lawless criminal organizations into totally lawless businesses with likely monopolistic power

No easy answer indeed.

linearthinker said...

Metaphysician,

No argument here. I'll take the consequences of any of your scenarios. The benefits exceed the costs and risks you've identified.

Baron Bodissey said...

metaphysician -- Once again, the Prohibition example is instructive. As I mentioned before, the Kennedy family fortune came from bootlegging during Prohibition. Somehow Joe Kennedy went from a crime boss to a respected member of society after the Volstead Act was consigned to the dustbin of history. He probably spread enough cash around the appropriate political campaigns to sanitize the family name...

I'm sure the same thing could happen to people who are simply in the heroin business. They won't be any better people after legalization, but, in a generation or two, their shareholders won't even notice.

And I don't see why the business has to be monopolistic, any more than the booze industry is. Opium poppies grow in quite a few places.

metaphysician said...

Points granted ( though I'm not sure whether using the Kennedy family as an example is necessarily a good sign ). However, the bootlegging parallel does not fully apply, since alcohol can be made anywhere, with ingredients grown more or less anywhere.

And while there are various places in which coca and poppies can be grown, how many of them don't already have existing illegal producers with which any legitimate producer would have to compete??

Baron Bodissey said...

metaphysician -- I'm assuming that at least some of the illegal operations will become legal, and that the former capos of them will become CEOs of (more-or-less) legitimate businesses. It won't be pretty, but neither were the Kennedys. Or any of the other successful capitalist dynasties, for that matter.

All of the squeaky-clean money laid out by the do-gooder leftist foundations today (Rockefeller, Ford, whatever) originally came from the ruthless depredations of amoral capitalists. No one ever made a fortune by any other means (except simple pillage) that I know of.

hank_F_M said...

Baron

I read a while back (DEA sources?) that the Latin American Drug Lords tuned down opportunities to support terrorism. They were afraid of the backlash if they turned up supporting a new 9/11. There crooks but not stupid.

-------------

There is another factor that belongs in your cost/benefit analysis.

At cheaper prices the usage will most likely go up. (A supply creates demand.) This will result in the number of accidents etc caused by persons under the influence of Drugs. Possibly more damaging will be the “poor decision making” of persons under the influence. No big splashy accident, just personal bankruptcies, broken families. In the business world companies could go under because of poor decisions. I have a theory that one on the factors in the ENRON failure was that key members of the organization were under the influence (most likely addicted) of alcohol or drugs when they were making critical decisions. And of course the medical costs of rehabilation and treating overdoses etc will go up.

I have always felt that the best argument for legalizing drugs is to get rid of the corruption that enforcing the prohibition creates. But it seems to me to be a very high cost.

I sure don’t have any grand solutions to the problem, however I think our C/B analysis needs some more data and still show a positive result to be convincing.

John B said...

I have read far too many good ideas from qualified people calling the "war on drugs" a complete failure. One of the most cogent comments was: "drugs are not a supply problem, they are a demand problem. As long as there is demand, someone will fill the supply."

I have never seen anything that has refuted that statement. At this point I am willing to consider anything.

Baron Bodissey said...

Hank -- I don't have any real data about cost/benefit, just intuition. My intuition says that more harm is done by interdiction, by criminalizing thigs which a large number of people want to do, and which would otherwise have no "victims".

After legalization, demand and usage would rise, but how much? Will more lives be ruined that way than are ruined now? I can't answer these questions.

But throw the national security issue into the mix, and I come down on the side of legalization. Take the heroin profits away from Lashkar-e-Toiba, and take the oil away from the Saudis -- then terrorism would decline by 90%.

Of course, my natural libertarian temperament plays a part in this, too.

Baron Bodissey said...

John B -- the demand for drugs is fueled in part by the progressive degradation of our common culture. There's no way to arrest that slide short of Taliban-like authoritarian control of people's moral behavior.

We can only change our degraded culture one voice at a time, by speaking out against the cesspit we have created. We cannot improve the situation by attempting legal control of private morality.

But I suspect you knew that already...

metaphysician said...

hank_f_m --

I think you made at least as good an argument for tuning down government social programs, as against legalizing drugs.

baron bodissey --

Don't expect the oil angle to be much use in anything resembling the short term. For that to even start changing would require us to start building a ton of nuke plants tomorrow, and thats an absolute prereq for *any* of the alternative auto designs ( and I'm rather skeptical of hydrogen becoming feasible before straight batteries of adequate ability do ).

While its important we not let them yank us around by the oil chain, we need to use other means to apply pressure than oil, because the demand isn't going to be flexible anytime soon enough to matter.

Kirk Parker said...

Baron,

"My intuition says that more harm is done by interdiction, by criminalizing thigs which a large number of people want to do"

True enough, though my concern runs more to the horribly corrupting effects of things like asset forfeiture on our law enforcement agencies.

Dymphna said...

As much as I agree that the "War" on Drugs is a pathetic mess, we have to take into account the fact that the socialists in this country and in Europe have developed a huge underclass and legalizing drugs would condemn them to even more degraded conditions than already exist. One only has to read Theodore Dalrymple on Britain's problems, or work for awhile with the underclass here, to recognize how much further destabilizing licensing drugs would be.

In other words, I don't think there is a way out of the dilemma we have created. It would have to be incremental and the social pressure not to be an addict would have to be as strong as it has become not to smoke. So many people have voluntarily quit that for practical purposes, the only ones still using tobacco in any quantity are the underclass and young teenagers. If the latter are from any other layer than the non-functioning one, they "grow out of" smoking.

That doesn't mean I don't think we should keep up this assinine war on drugs, especially the exquisite distortions like the ERICO laws...

...why is it that when we discover a social problem we look for the worst possible "solution" and apply it, and then when it doesn't work, we just apply harder? Are we perverse or what??

metaphysician said...

dymphna-

Because the worst possible solution will never actually solve it, leaving a permanent constituency for those providing it. It also typically is the most expensive monetarily, at least short term, thus leading to the maximum redistribution and increase in government power.

Baron Bodissey said...

metaphysician -- I know that oil is going to remain a mainstay of the Islamists (unless we decide to invade and occupy Saudi Arabia) for the foreseeable future. We have little control over that. But we do have control over the legality of opium products.

However, heroin will not be legalized anytime soon. I'm only trying to start a conversation about it. We need to look at the way we're damaging ourselves and helping the terrorists.

Legalizing heroin could only come about as a part of the reduction of the Nanny State. Forbidding the use of heroin is just the flip side of welfare -- the all-powerful State is what delivers all good things to us, and keeps us from doing bad things. We are the little children, and Daddy takes care of us, buying us toys but keeping the liquor cabinet locked.

We all know what would happen if heroin were legalized now -- all the users would have a "right" to free heroin, clean needles, treatment, counseling, housing, etc., provided at taxpayer expense. That would make us worse off than we are now.

I agree with Jesse Parker -- people are responsible for the consequences of their own actions -- but until the entitlement/nanny state culture changes, general acknowledgement of this simple truth will not occur.

unaha-closp said...

There is no need to drop the retail prices for heroin (can maybe even increase).

Allow legal opium production by all farmers in conjunction with a high sales tax on opium, morphine, heroin sold to the public - just like tobacco and alcohol. This way there develops a large supply of opiates at rock bottom wholesale market prices in the West that are much lower cost than in Afghanistan.

Baron Bodissey said...

unaha -- the problem with heavy taxes on something as portable as dope is that a thriving black market quickly arises, thereby re-creating the crime problem, gangs, smuggling, etc. The only improvement is that the government gets the bulk of the money, becoming in effect the kingpin of the enterprise.

Not everybody agrees that giving yet more money to the federal government is a good idea.

unaha-closp said...

Well you still have crime, but you stop the smuggling. Instead of being Afghani/Al Qaeda druglords the criminals are locals. If it is grown wholesale in Kansas, why would you want to import an illegal supply from half way round the world in Afghanistan - it is not going to be as cheap as you can purchase it locally and customs could confiscate your entire profit. Selling blackmarket just means getting a farmer to sell you some "rain ruined" poppy after he collects insurance or slipping a few hundred to some truck driver leaver the trailer unlocked. There is bugger all tobacco smuggling or moonshine run over the border.

Not everybody agrees that giving yet more money to the federal government is a good idea.

I won't do heroin so it won't be my money, but if some junkie wants to chip in towards my pension i'm all for it.

Baron Bodissey said...

unaha -- unfortuantely, it probably won't be your pension that the money would go towards. More likely it would be additional Robert Byrd Bridges to Nowhere.

genwolf said...

Everyone here seems prepared to accept that addiction rates for drugs would rise as a result of de-criminalisation or legalisation not quite the same things of which more later).

The reason why drug dealers are often reffered to as pushers is that at the bottom level that is percisely what they are. At current prices and with an unregulateed and often impure supply new addicts are faced with a hefty bill to fiance their addiction, and a high lieklihood that they will not be abale to support their habit legally. Their option's are then to deal, steal or sell themselves, and in many cases they do all three. An addict (in Australia at least) can fund their addiction if they recruit between 8 to 16 other Addicts. Addiction becomes then a pyramid selling scheme. People forget that many of our drug laws are comparitively recent, and drugs were not nearly as big a problem when they were in fact legal.

In Addition the stories of morphine addicted doctors are probably more than apocryphal, with opiates at least there are many examples of high functioning addicts, and cocaine is well known as the workaholics drug of choice. I have read and heard a number of Doctors claim that the main problem with people taking Heroin is that they have no idea what dose they are taking, and it is the variation in dosage which leads to many of the negative effects , from overdoses to the phenomena of ramping, where increasing doses are needed to achieve a high.

And because the idea of treatment programs is get people off Heroin we have the absurdity whereby they are given Methadone instead, which is more addictive than Heroin, and much more dangerous in it's psychological effects.

Much of the resistenace to drug legalisation is driven by the arguement that we are now barely holding the line , and legalisation would result in a flood of new addicts. I cannot see any legalistion scheme where drugs would be marketed by companies in the way alchoholic beverages are, more likely I could see a scheme that sells drugs to registered users or addicts that is a quasi monopoly or strict controlled license scheme, where the Governement might incetivise the drug sellers themselves to receive bonuses for addicts that they are able to treat successfully. At the same that legitimate sellers are defined, and strict controls put in place prohibiting marketing, some of the billions spent on the War on Drugs could be diverted to much more spohisticared prevention programs than these periodic and quite inane "Just say no" boondoggles.

The flip side of the legalistion would have to include absolutely draconian laws against Black marketeers, at least initially, with severe and mandatory sentencing for anyone caught pushing. Without their revenue source , and a severe cracjdown on their operatives even at the lwoest level, many of the narco networks would simply unravel or go legit over a period of a decade or so (they have very large cash reserves).

If you were a drug baron you would have to regard the potentail legalistion of drugs under a tightly controlled monopoly that excludes you as your nightmare scenario. Those opposed to an relaxation of drug laws should perhaps wonder why drug barons would wholeharetedly aggree.