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Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Drugs, Society | 23 comments

The war on drugs

 

I just watched this interesting and thought provoking video on Upworthy - have a look – it’s less than 3 minutes long:

Without going into details, I think there is definitely a “drug problem” that needs to be dealt with.  But the reality is that there are many problems, and we have to prioritise them.  Nobody is seriously suggesting that we leave drug users and dealers alone.  But perhaps we could focus more of our attention on the big bosses, the source of the drug problem, rather than on the end users, who typically don’t harm people.  With the extra money and man-hours left over, there would be more resources available to increasingly tackle serious issues such as violent and sexual crimes.

I could say more, but I’ll just let the video speak for itself.

  • Ann

    A society can choose to suppress drug use (as far as it it able) or to tolerate it, and in either case, the society will experience the consequences of that decision.

    But if the society decides to arrest drug dealers, then “focusing more of our attention on the big bosses” does not work. The problem is that the rewards of this position are so high that there is an endless succession of volunteers who step up to fill any vacancy. In fact, they often create the vacancy in the first place by diming out their bosses or bumping them off. Disrupting the supply chain by arresting a big boss is an impossible goal.

    Meanwhile, urban disorder and distress are reduced by the arrest of street-level dealers, and the arrest of non-violent users at least takes them out of circulation for some time, while it puts them in contact with opportunities for rehabilitation, just at the moment when they are likely to be the most motivated. Furthermore, young people may be discouraged from starting a new addiction by witnessing a high likelihood of arrest.

    The policy of arresting the “big bosses” was recognized as a failure some decades ago.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      You make some good points, Ann. I’m not pretending that my words above represent a good, balanced, well-researched position. With all the “bumping off” that goes on, I often wonder why anyone would want to go down that path…

      • Ann

        LOL! Yes, that’s a good question.

        I suppose that hope springs eternal, and that everyone is likely to fall prey to the fallacy of estimating positive outcomes (“I’ll live in my own owned section of Mexico and employ my brothers and sons. I’ll be bulletproof!”) as more likely that negative ones (“Hmm.. it was my old boss’s nephew who bumped him off…”)

        Besides, it really is a LOT of money.

        Many men have willingly died for less, for the benefit of their families and for their own eternal fame.

        There is an additional complication with implementing the “big boss” program — an awful lot of Big Bosses are not located on US territory, making efforts to arrest them either futile or illegal.

        All in all, keep civil order in the streets, attack easy-to-cure low-level street crime, and clean up attractive nuisances (abandoned buildings, vacant lots, neglected parks). That’s been a winning recipe for suppressing non-violent urban crime for a few decades now.

        This is called a “zero tolerance” policy, initiated in my home city (Boston)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_J._Bratton#Policing_style

      • Ann

        Well, I guess you are correct about the limited opportunities for rehab. I know in Boston that offenders are supposedly offered “detox,” which supposedly hooks them up with rehab next — but apparently something in that scenario doesn’t work, since nothing seems to happen to their habits.

        So-called “mandatory sentencing” is largely a PR fake, since the judges have given themselves huge discretion to vacate previous convictions (thus evading the “three strikes” laws,) or to simply suspend mandatory sentences.

        Nevertheless, it does seem that the prisons are stuffed with drug users and low-level dealers serving mandatory sentences for trivial drug offenses.

        I often wonder if people who complain about a current government policy (any government policy) recall the circumstances that led up to creating it.

        Do you remember the crime rampage of a few years ago? Boston was
        averaging a murder a day, and New York City had about 10 murders per day
        every day, day in and day out. Robberies and burglaries were at
        historic highs. Home invasions and drive-by shootings led to the gunning
        down of bystanders and children, and gang shootouts occurred in
        playgrounds. Mothers ran into the path of the bullets to grab their
        children away from the line of fire.

        Most of this crime was correctly attributed to drug use. Some of it was the junkies’ need to get as much as $500 per day somehow to pay for drugs.

        • Nerdsamwich

          One of the side effects of the war on drugs is that it has made the drug trade immensely more profitable. If it weren’t so dangerous to sell them, there wouldn’t be so much money in it, therefore less incentive for violence, and prices would be lower, therefore less need to rob. However, most possession offenders are locked up for marijuana. You know how often a junkie robs a house for weed money? It may happen somewhere, but I’ve honestly never heard of it. Meanwhile, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute carries an average sentence seven years longer than the average non-capital murder. Check out the recidivism numbers in Denmark some time.

          • Ann

            Then it would seem that the war on drugs has NOT driven up the price of marijuana, since no users have to commit crimes to afford it.

            But drug use entails many other social problems
            “Drug Use Soars in Denmark”
            Involuntary treatment initiative
            http://www.eurad.net/en/news/consumption_data/Drug+Use+Soars+in+Denmark.9UFRnMYs.ips

            Scholarly articles discussing the drug problem in Denmark
            http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/1164#sthash.n82Emu2J.dpbs

            It does seem reasonable that pushers, responsible for entangling so many young lives in a permanent adverse condition, should not be encouraged with long impunity.

          • Nerdsamwich

            Use is not the problem. Use is the symptom. The price of marijuana, like other drugs, has indeed gone up. It’s just that running out doesn’t drive you insane. Ever seen a raging pothead?

          • Ann

            The price of heroin, for example, rises and falls dramatically even when there is no particular change in US drug policy.

            Street price is affected by circumstances in other nations, I believe.
            It is my understanding that drug enforcement people grow morose when the price of heroin swoops to new lows, since they know that they will now see a slow increase in the number of users, as more and more teenagers are “priced in.”
            ~~~~~~~
            1) If drug use is a “symptom,” then are we to think that potheads are all suffering from a mental illness which we can work to identify and then cure?

            2) Is it your ideal to legalize marijuana – or – to achieve a drug-free society by curing the stoners out of the desire to get high? I presume this involves involuntary treatment if necessary — in captivity, do you think?

            3) Would one step in this forcible treatment be reducing access to marijuana by those mentally ill enough to use it? Would that reduction in access involve “de-legalizing” it?

          • Nerdsamwich

            Your second question belies your misunderstanding of my point. My point is that happy people don’t want to do drugs. If we address the three main reasons that young people turn to drugs–hopelessness, isolation, and boredom–then they will never start. THAT is what I mean by treating the disease, not the symptom. Some drug users, of course, are indeed self-medicating a mental illness. Those individuals need access to real health care, and a destigmatization of mental illness, in order to be happy, healthy people. For some of them, though, the proper treatment is to just let ‘em have their weed.

          • Ann

            My Dear Nerdsamwich ~

            You are lovable because you are an idealist.

            I am charmed to death by the sweetness and purity of your mind.

            My name is Ann. Can I call you by a more personal name?
            ~~~~~~~~~
            Unfortunately, I am not a charming idealist like you.
            I am an ugly ogre realist.

            1) No one knows what makes people start with drugs.
            Without doubt there are a huge variety of forces and causes, not all of which are inherent in the person. For example, the demographics of drug abuse most closely pattern the spread of cholera (that is, drug abuse acts like a contagious disease.)

            I once had the opportunity of talking to an adult who had spent many years addicted to heroin and many more on methadone. No matter how I probed or phrased the question, I never heard a coherent reason for his starting heroin. He knew it was addictive. He knew it made a mess of people. The most I could extract from his attempts to answer me was “Everyone else was doing it …” combined with “I didn’t care if I became addicted.”
            Or maybe that’s not what he was trying to tell me.

            2) I think you are showing a sweet innocence to imagine that a fake profession like psychology can just gp ahead and fix people all up, or that there is such a thing as “real medical care” for mental illness. Or that destigmatization can make insane people happy and healthy — or even make schoolkids who sell each other their Ritalin (without any sense of stigma) healthy and happy.

            It cheers me up to conclude that you have never been a drug abuser or a person with a mental illness. Otherwise you would not be so naive. I never have been one of those either, but I still know more about it than you do — due to a broader experience, I believe.

          • Nerdsamwich

            Thanks for the dripping condescension. I have family that do both–some of them at the same time. Yelling at them sure doesn’t help. The fact remains: happy people don’t want to get high. Now, I fully understand that there will always be unhappy people, but folks turn to drugs–often without knowing why–when they feel trapped in a terrible condition with no way out, other than to change their chemical circumstances. Your heroin user probably didn’t care if he became addicted because he didn’t see how his life could get worse. For your Point 2, again, thanks for talking so very far down. Who the hell mentioned psychology? We have real treatments for many, if not most, mental disorders now. And yeah, destigmatization goes a long way toward keeping my bipolar friend on his meds. It might even save the life of some depressed teen who’s too embarrassed to get help for his depression. In conclusion, attitudes like yours are half the problem.

          • Ann

            I wasn’t being condescending.
            I was completely sincere.
            I did think you were a much younger person than it now seems to me.
            I apologize for misinterpreting your motives and for misjudging the purity of your mind.

            I am bemused by your power to read the mind and motives of a person you never laid eyes on or shared a single word with. If it helps you think through these questions, he did not have a bad life by any means. He started out as a successful student from a stable, happy, two-parent family that was (relatively) prosperous. His brothers and sister all became college graduates.

            Thanks for your responses. I’m sure you also have some valuable ideas.

    • Nerdsamwich

      What opportunities for rehabilitation? The justice system in the US is not concerned with rehabilitation, but rather with retribution. American prisons take a nice kid who made one mistake(or maybe a few), and turn out a hardened criminal with no prospects for legitimate gainful employment. Furthermore, young people are only discouraged in practice from starting a new addiction by removing the conditions that lead to feeling the need to get high in the first place: hopelessness, isolation, and boredom.

      • Ann

        @ Nerdsamwich
        (PS — I don’t know why the first part of my response got posted to Reasonably Faithless (just below.) Do you think I’m too dumb to post on this board?)

        Part Deux
        Some of the crime consisted of turf battles to control the profitable drug trade.

        The best research at the time also indicated that the use of crack cocaine was associated with horrific levels of spontaneous interpersonal violence.

        It was also an era when judges were reducing sentences to levels that sincerely offended the frightened citizens. Time served for murder averaged SEVEN YEARS, and went down from there for lesser crimes. In some jurisdictions, a conviction for rape was punished by a monetary fine. Many convicts arrived at a prison to begin their 5-to-10-year sentences, and were released the VERY NEXT DAY.

        So politicians started catering to the citizens’ legitimate fears by passing laws for “truth in sentencing,” along with mandatory sentences and “Three Strikes” laws. This was the era of “Zero Tolerance” for drug offenses, as drug intoxication, cravings, and turf control were seen as driving the rampage of murder, robbery, shoot-outs, and savagery.

        What would you have done? It seems quite evident that if the law does not punish a certain behavior that some people are motivated to do, then they will keep on doing it — in fact, doing it more and more.

        What do you think we should do?

        • Nerdsamwich

          Well, the public health approach seems to have worked for Portugal. How about we concentrate on the reasons people want to do drugs? I’m not saying that prison needs a revolving door, I’m saying that addiction, and all its ancillary crimes, are the symptom. If we find and cure the disease, all the symptoms go away.

          • Ann

            How awesome would that be — just find and cure the real, background disease — and all our drug problems will go away!

            It would be equally fabulous to just find and cure the real diseases for all out social problems — low educational attainment, criminal activity, irresponsible parenting, unsafe driving, alcohol use …

            Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
            Meanwhile, in Denmark, treatment is a flop. Two-thirds of those enrolled in treatment programs are graduates of the treatment program.
            “““““““““““““““““
            (Clients Entering Treatment in Denmark 2011)
            “The total number of drug users admitted to treatment during 2011, is slightly under 16,200, which is the second highest number registered drug abusers since the opening of the register. The development in the number of drug abusers receiving treatment has been increasing over recent years, cf figure 5.3.1.

            “In 2011, 5,686 persons were admitted to treatment in Denmark. This
            figure includes people admitted for the first time and those who are
            readmitted for treatment.

            The rate of persons who have not previously been admitted to treatment is 32% in 2011, which is the same level as in previous years.”

            Source: Sundhedsstyrelsen
            (National Board of Health), “2012 National Report (2011 data) to the
            EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point: Denmark: New Development,
            Trends and in-depth information on selected issues,” (Copenhagen,
            Denmark: Sundhedsstyrelsen, Nov. 2012), p. 36.

            http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/html.cfm/index213824EN.html

            http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.cfm/att_213825_EN_Denmark_NR201
            – See more at: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/1164#sthash.n82Emu2J.dpuf
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
            Does it seem wrong to you at all that a society would allow pushers to addict as many young people as they can, but the consolation prize is that the addicts can get some “treatment” which doesn’t work?

            Is that the plan?

          • Nerdsamwich

            I was referring to their prison system, which focuses on teaching the inmate to be a productive member of society, rather than on punishing the crime. Their recidivism rate is a fraction of that found in the US, where long, harsh sentencing leaves “graduates” of the system knowing nothing of how to survive in society, as to survive prison, you must become a savage yourself.

          • Ann

            I would love to see the lesson plans and the assigned textbook for “teaching inmates to be productive members of society.”

            As a teacher in a community college, I happen to know we can’t even teach people to spell “its.”

            In addition to the self-evident impossibility of teaching any such thing to people who didn’t learn it (in whatever mysterious way we become acculturated and socialized as we grow up) in the first place, there seems to be a logic flaw in saying:
            “Hey! I have a good idea! Let’s legalize marijuana and then once we have lured lots of people into using it, subject the users to involuntary treatments in captivity until our highly-skilled prison teachers (PhDs just DYING for this job!) teach them to be productive members of society! Who’s with me?”

            Surely “teaching people to be productive members of society” should not begin by legalizing the drugs that are the subject of the remediation.

            Anyway, it isn’t clear if you think marijuana use is due to being absent that day when they taught how to be a productive member of society – or – a symptom of an illness we can discover and cure.

            But in either case, legalizing it seems counterproductive, don’t you think?

          • Nerdsamwich

            The Danish prison system teaches prisoners to lead productive lives by supervising them as they do so. They are put in an apartment, which they must maintain, and put to a job. Those who show themselves responsible enough cook their own meals, and they have kitchen tools in their apartments–including knives–with which to do so. Those exiting this system hardly ever need to return, unlike the rampant recidivism in the US.
            You seem to be conflating decriminalizing drug use with encouraging it. Do you contend that society encourages tobacco smoking, just because it’s not a crime to do so? Irresponsible pet ownership isn’t a crime, either, but it’s definitely not encouraged.

          • Ann

            Sounds like the Danish system is a genuine treat for criminals.

            I’ve seen programs in the US which also turn a “conviction” into an “opportunity.” There was one program for adjudicated teens that let them mess around on a palomino ranch. My godson would have dearly loved a chance to work with palominos, but unluckily he hadn’t committed any felonies — so tough luck for him.

            I wonder if you think that “taking care of an apartment and cooking with a knife” (as long as you’re being watched) is some sort of definition of “cured of committing felonies or being addicted to drugs.”

            I know I’d feel kind of bad if I had been raped and mutilated by one of the guys who’s been given his own apartment under the “Housework for Freedom” plan. I’d have to conclude that the justice system is all about the well-being of the criminal, but that society has no interest in mine (as the victim.)

            Really — I’d almost rather be a felon than a victim under those circumstances — say by gunning down random men in alleys in case they are thinking of raping me.

            As the felon, I’d get some neat new kitchenware to play with — and a prompt release date since I already know how to cook — and my victim would get the raspberry. This is a far better outcome for me than being the discarded — even incurable — victim of a person who gets a cool new apartment for scarring me for life physically and emotionally.

            But hey — it’s all good because the justice system’s first priority should be “Let’s be nice to felons!”

          • Nerdsamwich

            How about you look into the system, and check out its success benchmarks before you go talking down to folks about its flaws? If you haven’t looked around the US recently, you might not have noticed that our justice system’s “deterrent” philosophy really doesn’t do that much to keep crime from being committed. We incarcerate more people per capita than China, for fork’s sake, and they throw you in prison for looking at a Mao poster the wrong way. Our recidivism rate is similarly through the roof–the conditions inside prison don’t seem to make anyone too anxious to stay out.
            “I’d almost rather be the felon than the victim”–who wouldn’t? Condescension does not make your arguments any sounder. Take a moment to review the evidence, and then–trying as hard as possible to separate your emotions from the problem–give a good hard think to whether or not retributive justice might just not be the best route to go.

          • Ann

            There are many cases in which people would be too morally high-minded to be the felon rather than the victim.

            “if you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib … I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”
            ~ Malala Yousafzai
            http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/malalayous569376.html#Ghd5RTx0KB4glKFE.99

            However, your automatic assumption that it is obviously the better choice to be the criminal goes a long way toward explaining why you are pushing for such splendid treatment for criminals — in fact, better treatment than for their victims.

          • Nerdsamwich

            Hell of an ad hominem, that. This conversation is on a downward spiral. I’ll leave you with a couple of final thoughts:
            1) When you treat a man savagely, you make of him a savage. I’m not advocating being “soft on crime”. I’m advocating an approach based on results, not feelings.
            2) In debating circles, ad hominem arguments are seen as the next best thing to conceding defeat.

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