Friday, January 19, 2007

LEAP for Sanity

Steve at Skepticals has posted a piece on LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a name that harkens back to a time in our history when we should have learned how to fight a Drug War. He quotes an extensive article from Radley Balko in the comments, which is also worth reading.

OK, let’s assume (which I do not) that the elimination of certain drugs is a legitimate goal for society. How should you go about making it happen in these modern times? Take the question seriously. Your suggestions are welcome. But I think we can safely say that whatever it is we are doing now has the opposite effect from the one desired. The system, as my father explained to me and any competent police officer can tell you, is so full of holes and counterproductive procedures, that it is not just as bad as doing nothing at all, but actually much, much worse. The current system promotes smuggling, international instability, gang violence throughout the world, corruption of border guards, corruption of police and officials from the lowest to the highest, cabals of local officials, mal-distribution of income, inefficiency in economics, environmental destruction, terrorism, proliferation of lawyers, protectionism, dangerous formulation practices on the part of the providers and destructive behaviors among the users. It also encourages people to use these drugs. Repeat. The current system encourages increased use of the drugs that it is trying to eliminate.

OK, so what’s my plan? I imagine that nine out of ten people can’t begin to accept what I’ve said here, and I’m not really going to take the time to explain. Instead I’ll just give you my plan and see if you can wrap your mind around it.

The three most important steps are these: 1) take away the profit motive, 2) take away the profit motive and 3) take away the profit motive. OK, do I have you so far? Of course, everyone understands basic finance. If there’s no money in it, people aren’t going to be so determined to trade in it.

But, you may think, that would be impossible. There’s no way to take the money out of it. Well, you would be wrong! It’s very easy. You just continue with the present enforcement structure while allowing the US government to sell the same drugs, in their purest, most hygienic, and powerful form. And cheap. Don’t play around. Make it cheaper than aspirin.

But, you may say, that would be immoral! Yes, I know. But by the same standards, it would also be immoral to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Look at it this way, you have just eliminated the incomes of every petty criminal and anti-social monster in the country who wants to make money by selling those drugs. You have also completely dried up the pool of money that flows into the pockets of crooked cops. Not only that, you are making money for the government without raising taxes!

But what about the poor drug users? What about them? Think about all the people who wouldn’t use it before because it was illegal and dangerous? Now there will be nothing to stop them from destroying their lives. (Not very bright I guess.)

Well, let’s try a little thought experiment. Right now, the most addictive drug, and one of the most dangerous drugs, is being distributed and sold right under your eyes. Every convenience store outside of Utah is selling this stuff (I don’t know about Utah). You know where I’m going, right? Cigarettes!

Now suppose that the franchise on cigarettes were revoked. Only the government could sell cigarettes. What do you suppose that product would be like? I can promise you that it would be clean, standardized, mass-produced and boring. There will be a picture of an eagle on the front and a grim warning on the back with, perhaps, a depiction of cancerous lung tissue. No government official would ever take a chance of generating buzz or effectively promoting this product. Sales procedures would be anything but smooth, and sales revenues would surely and steadily fall. A smoker would be given no fantasy to connect to, no courtesy, no comradery and certainly no respect. The advertising budget would be for laughs only.

The bottom line is that drug use would actually decline once the profit motive was gone. OK, I can accept that you might not agree. Let’s assume therefore, that drug usage is still increasing. What’s my next step? 4) Start raising the prices. Keep raising them until the drug dealers and corrupt cops go back into business, and they will, then back off a little. Now you are at a situation where your product is almost as expensive as the natural market. The price is high, but there is no one out there encouraging the user to buy. Plus, you are making a lot of money, which you can use to enforce the government monopoly.

Now to commence eliminating all drug use: 5) Stop selling to new buyers. Require proof that a user is already addicted before selling to them. The side effect of this, sadly, is to create a secondary market where drug users will sell to non-users for a small profit. 6) Control the secondary market by chemically tagging each and every unit with a complex chemical cipher, a UPC of inactive chemicals. Every new user will be blood-tested and the origin of the contraband can be easily determined. Start the new user and arrest the source. Since you are the only game in town you can count on a return visit.

Am I right? Would it work? Can you poke any holes in this plan?

Actually, I do think it would work, but I don’t think I approve entirely. I think these drugs are a wonderful thing. A gift from God. In this world, believe it or not, people suffer. And I believe they suffer needlessly. People with cancer, people with arthritis or any of a hundred debilitating illnesses, including old age, should be allowed to control their discomfort and distress with any drug that suits them. Since every user is registered, there can be no unpunished violence. Since every dose is clean, there will be no ancillary disease issues. Since every drug is available, there will be no tragic regimen of under-treatment, no throwing doctors in jail for honest care.

If you are interested in more of the rationalist argument against the War on Drugs, you should be reading M. Simon’s blog, Power and Control.

1/19/2007 1:21 AM

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At Friday, January 19, 2007 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Very well put, JJ, but I would probably stop with number 3, raising the price only so far as required to administer the program. I'd also like a solid barrier between drug revenue and other govermment finances. The idea of funding government with sin taxes ought to be squashed. ("You can't win if you don't play," anyone?)

I don't think we should treat all drugs the same way. The "government only" model seems appropriate to some of the harder stuff, while drugs like marijuana and MDMA might be more suitably dealt with some other way.

Number 4 is an interesting idea, but are you going to somehow means test the sale of drugs? A price set to discourage a person of means isn't suitable for the poor, and vice versa.

I'm not sure what the impact of eliminating the income of every petty criminal and anti-social monster would be, but that's certainly no reason to continue the status quo.

Good post as usual. Interesting link, too.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 1:41:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I understand what you're saying, and I don't necessarily disagree, but I was trying to prove, in so far as such a thing can be proved, that we could really totally eliminate drug use if we were willing to treat it from a systems point of view. The Drug War, as it is currently being waged, is merely a price support system for the dealers. The more head-on tactical resistance we offer, the higher the prices go, and the happier the providers are.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 1:43:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Hey, don't forget my idea for labelling the source of the drugs. I thought that was a pretty good one.

At Saturday, January 20, 2007 3:46:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

The reason you want a solid barrier around the drug revenue is to eliminate the motivation, which the government, or various fiefdoms within the government, might develop to increase their own income and job security by selling more drugs. This shows that you are a systems thinker. Many people are apparently unable to think that way. The design of our government encourages a sort of least common denominator quality of thinking that can't see the obvious systems solution. Suboptimization, in this case, becomes a way of life. Set a goal and attain it. Somehow things are worse than they were before. Double your efforts and try again.


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