- Barbara D'Amato
A few weeks ago a group of Chicago police officers were pulled off duty for keeping the drugs they confiscated from arrestees and reselling them—the drugs, not the arrestees. Probably nobody wanted to buy the arrestees.
I’m not criticizing the CPD. Most police officers do a good job and a good cop is pure gold to all of us. It’s sad that drugs are so portable, so profitable, and maybe even to these cops, constitute such a victimless crime.
Crime writers make use constantly of drugs as plot elements—motivation, solution, even simply to characterize a person as a bad guy. It was not always so. Watson did not despise Holmes.
What if we decriminalized drugs? Well, we might achieve this--
Save the billions—yes, billions—that are spent on police, the DEA, prisons, border interdiction, and so on. Maybe this money could be spent on treatment. Or maybe even schools.
Eliminate deaths from adulterated drugs.
Eliminate a LOT of crime. Cop friends tell me that three-quarters of the arrests they make are drug related.
Eviscerate drug cartels and drug-related criminal enterprises.
Protect the thousands of people who will be mugged for drug money.
Make the kids who now “earn” a couple of hundred dollars a day as lookouts think seriously about getting a job.
End the “Amwayization” of drug use. I wish I knew who first came up with this word. It means, of course, that when a person gets a habit he has to go out and convert others to sell to so that he can support his habit.
But, you say, you know people whose lives have been ruined by drugs. Me too, but very frequently by legal drugs. The advantage legal drugs have is that they can be monitored. How about spreading that benefit? In any case, let’s be clear here. Everyone you or I know of who has a problem with drugs has developed that problem under the present laws. Is it possible the laws cause the problem? Two very powerful forces are operating—Amwayization, as mentioned above, and the forbidden fruit syndrome. I would really prefer a world in which children would not feel their normal need to rebel would be served by using drugs.
How bad would decriminalization be? Nobody knows. But in Peru, coca growers are permitted to grow a certain amount for their own use. Coca leaves are brewed as a stimulating drink, somewhat like the way we use coffee and tea. What is a drug, anyway? In some parts of the world, coffee is illegal.
Some good reading:
The economist Milton Friedman wrote a lot about decriminalization. An economic conservative, he was nevertheless in favor of what seems a radical notion. See The War We Are Losing, Hoover Institute Press, 1991. Or Stop Taxing Non-Addicts, Reason Magazine, October 1988, or an interview with him in Newsweek May 1, 1972.
Howard Becker, a well-known sociologist, has had a lot to say about what kind of substances we choose to call drugs. See, for instance, “Drugs: What Are They?” in Aiglet:Atlanta, 2001. He has numerous other articles on the subject. Elsewhere he makes the point that when stronger forms of mind-altering substances arrive in a culture, people don’t know how to use it and it destroys people for a while. Think Hogarth’s Gin Lane. He predicted that people would learn to use the substances that appeared in the sixties more safely, and he was generally right. Stronger forms of a drug are developed, among other reasons, so that they can be hidden in smaller spaces and transported easily.