I didn’t have much of an opinion about illegal drugs back when I started to work for the police.
Oh, I had heard the arguments in favor of legalizing all drugs. This was back in the early 1990s, and our prisons were beginning to fill due to the so-called “War on Drugs”. Legalization advocates would point out that the economic cost of illegal drugs would be extremely low if they were suddenly acceptable. All the crime, violence, and social costs that came from addiction would disappear if the price wasn’t artificially inflated. Remove the drug laws and remove the profit incentive for gang bangers and pushers to do war in the streets. Make drugs cheap and there wouldn’t be any reason for junkies to commit crimes to feed their habit.
Like I said, I had heard the arguments in favor of legalization but had yet to form an opinion. Then I started to meet junkies up close and personal.
It was pretty obvious pretty fast that legalizing all drugs wouldn’t turn these people into productive members of society. Stick them in prison long enough to dry out, let the physical cravings fade, even enroll them in mandatory drug treatment programs as a condition of their parole, and they would go seek out more dope just as soon as they could. There was simply something in their emotional or mental makeup which caused them to decide that dumping poison in their bodies, poison which would eventually destroy their health and kill them, was the best option.
It was at this point that I came to the realization, false though it may be, that those who advocated drug legalization were a bunch of cold and calculating bastards. Let the price of illegal drugs fall as far as they said it would and we would have corpses littering the streets in a few days. Solve the problems which came from illegal drugs by allowing the addicts to kill themselves with the substance of their choice. At least the prisons would have more room.
I’m taking you along on this trip down Memory Lane due to an essay I read over at Cowtown Cop. In the post, he relates some amusing anecdotes about busting addicts that would visit a dope house in his jurisdiction. It is worth your time to read it for that alone, and I recommend it. But he also has a very brief word about the subject of this post.
“If the bad folks who sell and use the dope don’t come there anymore you see crimes like robbery, aggravated assault, theft and burglary just kind of dry up. Whenever I hear someone calling for across the board legalization of drugs I always wonder if they are a user themselves or just incredibly naïve about the types of people who use and sell dope. Even if heroin and cocaine were legal the bad folks would still commit crimes to supply their habits. It’s not like they would suddenly become fine upstanding, hardworking citizens the day it becomes legal. They still won’t be able to hold a job and will still be the same dysfunctional addict that they were before.”
Sound wisdom, I think.
29 thoughts on “It Is Called “Dope””
Cowtown Cop is right about the dysfunctional addict. But I think we should not be using drug use as a proxy for punishing robbery and property crimes. I suspect that locking up the street dealers from one neighborhood just causes the junkies to move to a different town or city.
The justice system should deal with the junkies and their destructive behavior. But if it was easy it would have already been done.
Well, if junkies are going to be junkies regardless, I’d still just as well not have billions of dollars of black market profits flowing into the hands of narco-cartels,insurgencies and 4GW warlords when a legalized trade could at least be taxed to re-coup some of the spillover costs.
I deal with a fair amount of junkies, drunks and potheads. I’m a bartender in the second to cheapest bar in town. Most of the users, 80-90% pay for their own, and are never caught, and never meet a cop. So cop info is biased. I believe it is called a ‘mother in law’ observation.
Further, not one in twenty dopers blame the drugs for their life and not one buys the ‘drugs made me steal, rob, rape’ notion. Druggies call people that use drugs that rob, robbers. That rape, rapist. And so forth.
Although not on the career path to a second vacation home in Aruba, most dysfunctional in appearance and societal norm drugies feel they are doing ‘OK’, don’t want anyone’s help, and are intimately aware of their condition, vis a vis, ‘straights’.
The WOD is a employment project for cops, judges, lawyers, jailers, social workers, welfare workers, academics, socalled detox workers, clerks, contractors. Stopping it won’t stop crime. There was crime before drugs. There is now. It’s a constant. But, maybe (although I doubt it) the security bureaucracy could, in theory, nominally increase its arrest rate, and honest conviction rate of robberies, rapes and murders. That would be nice.
Lastly, my drug of choice, and my first love, is beer.
“I’m a bartender in the second to cheapest bar in town. Most of the users, 80-90% pay for their own, and are never caught, and never meet a cop. So cop info is biased.”
And your viewpoint isn’t biased, with all these druggies being your customers?
The point of the post above was to discuss one of the shibboleths of the legalization crowd. Repeal the drug laws and crime would drop because the addicts could then buy their poison for a pittance.
If, as you claim, the majority of illegal drug users don’t commit crimes, then they would hardly matter to the discussion at hand. Cheap or expensive, legal or outlawed, they aren’t a problem.
Another thing to consider is that there will be some very nasty unintended consequences if presently illegal drugs become cheap and more plentiful. Higher rates of addiction, as well as dead addicts for a start. I suspect that most of those responsible addicts you mention in your comment will find their lives slide off the rails if they don’t have to worry about the expense of their drug of choice.
For what it is worth, I wouldn’t mind seeing drugs become legal. I’m really only concerned with the safety of innocent people, and their victimization rate should drop after enough addicts commit suicide-by-needle.
Do you have evidence for the idea that there would be more addicts if drugs were legalized? I realize it sounds like common sense, but that’s only if you take a substance-centric view of the matter rather than a person-specific view. I suspect that most of the drug addicts you come across would just be some other kind of addict (alcoholic?) if their drug of choice were unavailable. And speaking of counterintuitive ideas, it’s not that clear that legalization would even increase availability. The war on drugs has been a major failure on its own terms. It remains easier for a teen to buy illegal drugs than beer, and this is decades after the WOD started.
Finally, one thing that does make addiction worse is a lot of the “treatment” programs which advocate 100% abstinence only. Tell a man if he has one drink he’ll have 20, and what do you think’s going to happen if he slips and has a drink? Yeah, he’ll have 20. The science backs me up on this. Psychotherapy, etc., are much more effective than 12-step plans, which might do more harm than good, on average.
I think someone’s views on this depend a lot on the assumptions they make.
What is the threshold where the government should deny my right to an activity–Possible harm to myself? Possible increase in the chance I will choose do something criminal to others? Possibility that the mere activity will harm others, even if I don’t mean to?
Would increased consistency offset increased availability in preventing accidental overdoses?
I will stipulate that a drug user is more likely to be a criminal. Does drug use cause criminal behavior, does criminal activity cause drug use, or does something else make some more susceptible to becoming both a criminal and an addict?
Does the illegality of drugs increase or decrease other crime?
Would the resources spent on drug crime result in better quality of life if they were instead spent on violent crime?
How many people avoid drugs *only* because they are illegal?
Would the people who currently avoid drugs only because they are illegal commit crimes to support their habits?
In some schools drugs illegal drugs are easier to get than alcohol. Is this because of portability, or because the black market has no incentive to enforce age restrictions?
If we could delay the age where kids take drugs, would we wind up with fewer addicts?
I don’t know if any of these questions can be answered without experimentation, but if they could, I think most would support legalization.
“Do you have evidence for the idea that there would be more addicts if drugs were legalized? I realize it sounds like common sense, but that’s only if you take a substance-centric view of the matter rather than a person-specific view.”
Very good point, JA. I don’t have any evidence at all, just as the people who claim that legalizing drugs will significantly reduce crime have any evidence for their own position.
“I think someone’s views on this depend a lot on the assumptions they make.”
I am absolutely sure that you are right, Anon.
Very good point, JA. I don’t have any evidence at all, just as the people who claim that legalizing drugs will significantly reduce crime have any evidence for their own position.
Really? At the very least, it’s obvious that legalizing drugs would eliminate (or VASTly reduce) the money going to various criminal organizations who derive much of their income from the transportation, sale, etc., of illegal drugs. And it would get rid of corruption bought and paid for by said criminal organizations. So even if it doesn’t reduce other crimes like robbery by addicts, it would still have a big effect.
It would also free up a lot of law enforcement resources to focus on other crimes. A cop who’s not trying to bust a heroin dealer can maybe walk a beat and prevent a few burglaries, murders, and/or rapes.
Finally, there’s some possibility that legalizing drugs would enable us to DECREASE the number of addicts out there. The obvious parallel is nicotine usage — we have managed to drastically reduce it without criminalizing it, whereas the WOD has not even slightly reduced illegal drug use. The WOD has in fact had some unintented consequences that are extremely negative — for example, stronger drugs (because they are penalized by weight, it’s obvious that drugs that give more bang for the oz are going to be cultivated), the ruining of lives (young men going to jail for non-violent and no-victim offenses), etc.
I am afraid you lost me when you looked into the hearts of people with different opinions than yourself and only saw cold blooded proxy killers.
“I am afraid you lost me when you looked into the hearts of people with different opinions than yourself and only saw cold blooded proxy killers.”
Actually, they have the same opinion that I do. I also never said that they were “proxy killers”, just that they were cold and calculating bastards. You aren’t a killer if you allow someone to kill themselves, after all.
I don’t doubt that some legalization advocates would like to see drugs also made socially acceptable, but most are simply arguing to bring the black market into plain sight, where it can be taxed and regulated — in the same way that we ended alcohol Prohibition decades ago.
We have plenty of evidence that people can spiral out of control from alcohol abuse, but making alcohol illegal had far worse consequences than keeping it legal.
Why shouldn’t drug prohibition follow that same pattern?
Maybe it is clearer if I say “by-proxy killers”, using the drugs as a proxy to kill people (as opposed to themselves being the proxy).
You assume that they have the same opinion as you do. Of course you don’t call them killers, but you all but do so. You say they want to make a policy change that result in a net increase of people dying because of drugs, that they are aware of this and yet, for reasons undescribed, persist in advocating it. All of these (or similar) is needed to come to the conclusion that they are cold and calculating.
You are being uncharitable and overly broad in your argument and that is what I object to.
“You are being uncharitable and overly broad in your argument and that is what I object to.”
I actually think that most of those who advocate legalization haven’t fully considered what will happen if they get their way. But it is more dramatic to claim cynicism instead of ignorance.
What about the alcohol legalization parallel, James? What makes you think legalizing the currently illegal drugs wouldn’t have similar positive effects?
The argument that legalizing drugs reduces crime is straightforward. If it is legalized, the price will go down. At that point, junkies may not need to commit as much crime to come up with the money to keep themselves high. If a dose is currently $50 and drops to $1, I think you’d see a lot less crime.
There is also the argument that legalization would lead to standardization that would save junkies’ lives – they would know the purity/dose of every batch, not just guess it.
There were gangs in the 1950s, when you could buy firearms by mail. Why wasn’t there the level of violence we see in today’s gangs? When one corner of your turf is simply an arbitrary border, it may not be worth risking your life. When it is worth $10,000 a weekend from drug sales, you might be willing to risk more to keep it. Or to take that corner from others. This applies, not just in the US, but in every narcotics trafficking country.
So far you have not convinced me that the benefits suggested for legalization would not occur nor what the terrible consequences of legalization would be. All I know is that a neighbor from my upper middle class neighborhood with grown and departed children approached our 12 year old son and a friend to inform them that he was the local source for marajuana.
Some how I doubt he would be doing this if dope could be bought legally. No adults have approached my son to resell him beer or whiskey.
And all the police could do was their normal investigative tactic that turned up nothing. So unless I want to subject my son to a court room cross examination by a pit bull drug attorney, nothing will be done.
Thanks for your useless and ineffective war on drugs.
My only consolation is that my son was willing to tell me what a scumball I have for a neighbor.
“What about the alcohol legalization parallel, James?”
You ever work with people addicted to hard drugs? Alcohol takes a lot longer to kill someone, and they have to consume greater amounts by several orders of magnitude.
“No adults have approached my son to resell him beer or whiskey.”
Wait until he is a teenager. He’ll probably buy the booze and carefully keep from mentioning it to you, though.
“Thanks for your useless and ineffective war on drugs.”
Why doesn’t anyone ever read what I write?
It is hardly MY war on drugs since I favor legalization. But I am one of the few who do so in spite of the fact that there are some really nasty potential consequences.
I don’t think I would know that I was working with someone who used hard drugs unless that use had become an overwhelming problem — and hard drug use often does not become an overwhelming problem. Only a fraction of the people who try cocaine, ecstasy, smoked opium, etc. spiral into addiction.
Even actual addiction might not become truly overwhelming if the user can find a regular supply of known quality. There are, for instance, eminent addicts; just don’t expect them to announce their addiction.
I think it’s important to realize the selection bias involved in judging drugs’ effects from the only drug users you can easily recognize as drug users — down and out junkies.
If alcohol use were driven underground to the same extent, the only alcohol users we’d recognize as alcohol users would be down and out drunks.
I re-read your post and comments. It seemed a very reluctant and buried comment regarding legalization as it did the first time I read it. The over all thrust of your comments is very pro-drug laws and enforcement to protect the poor people who have chosen to do drugs whether that was your intention or not.
I am a cold calculating bastard who sees the accelerated departure of those who make the choice to use chemical assistance, whether alcohol, illicit drugs or tobacco, to escape reality and responsibility a feature not a bug. The sooner they are gone and the uglier their departure the better. Choices have consequences and tax money shouldn’t be spent sugar coating them.
Legalization of ALL drugs might be interesting, socially, in a Darwinian sort of way, the gene pool would be cleaned up, and benefit society. Personal responsibility and sober consideration would rule the day. Think how much more the general population would study their health problems if they wrote their own prescriptions! National health care would be minimized, personal liberty would be increased. Seriously, I’m for it!
Your argument for banning drugs are very, very similar to the arguments for banning guns. You want to ban drugs to prevent crime and keep people from killing themselves and their families. Same arguments are made for banning guns. And both sets of arguments have the same level of validity.
Drugs have been available since the dawn of time. These plants didn’t just pop up ready-to-use out of the ground. They are the product of 1000s of years of selective cultivation by men and women who wanted a better, longer lasting high. People have lived several millenia with drugs “uncontrolled” with no ill effects other than the creation of a few religions. I will not say the drugs are harmless. After all, some of the religions they inspired (through visions) are quite deadly. Nor are the drugs useless. Modern medicine would be impossible without them.
Ask the addicts incarcerated in XXXX county jail. I have for 15+ years and 95% are dead against legalizing pot never mind the ‘hard(er)” drugs.
“I don’t think I would know that I was working with someone who used hard drugs unless that use had become an overwhelming problem — and hard drug use often does not become an overwhelming problem.”
And those people aren’t the subject of this post. Only the addicts which commit crimes and hurt the innocent concern me.
“The sooner they are gone and the uglier their departure the better. Choices have consequences and tax money shouldn’t be spent sugar coating them.”
Looks like we are in agreement, then.
“Your argument for banning drugs are very, very similar to the arguments for banning guns.”
Actually, I want to legalize drugs. That way the price would drop, and far gone addicts would either straighten up and stop committing crimes (highly unlikely), or they will kill themselves through overdose (more probable).
Forty percent of the U.S. population has tried pot – that’s 94 million Americans.
Arrest them all? Riiiiight.
“The Beatles took pot and created Sgt. Pepper’s. Anna Nicole Smith took legal drugs and she couldn’t remember the number for 9-1-1.” – Bill Maher
I think there is a lot of hyperbole from those coming out for the legalization side of this post (probably to the point of James’ exhaustion). Will everything be much better if all illegal drugs were legalized? Doubtful. Has the War on Drugs been a success? Outlook hazy, please try again. Those for legalization need fully explain what legalization means? To what degree of availability would you allow? Would legalization truly undermine smuggling? Remember, cigarettes are smuggled state to state through criminal enterprises as well.
all drug laws do is determine the street price and who makes the profit. the one thing they don’t do is eliminate drug use. you say that legalizing drugs won’t eliminate all crime, true enough — but what if it eliminated 90% of crime, would that be a worthwhile trade? the fact that criminals commit crimes as a way to support themselves is not really a reason to keep drugs illegal. if you want to estimate the level of usage if all drugs are legal, check the statistics from before they were illegal. as for bodies in the streets, ask jennifer hudson about that.
all addictions are terrible but there are better ways of helping addicts than throwing them in prison. at the end of the day, the best thing would be to minimize the damage to society from addicts, even if that means letting them destroy themselves in a controlled environment.
it’s funny how drug use isn’t considered so bad in a time of war, when virtually all nations provide their armed forces with loads of stimulants (and often times with outright narcotics). just saying.
We have a partial test case for legalization – the Netherlands. They have been moving back towards outlawing marijuana in the last few years, so the folks that have tried legalization lite aren’t liking the results.
First, pull marijuana out of the “Heroin, Speed, Coke” column and put it in with the “Beer/Alcohol” column.
Having said that, an addiction to pot can be as debilitating over-doing on booze.
But, and this is a huge difference, pot is not going to put you on in the ER or staring down the barrel of a gun no matter how many times you go to score it and use it, not counting driving under its influence.
Legalizing all drugs is a a bad idea, and I’m by no means saying that pot and excessive alcohol consumption are without their risks, but there’s a need for proxy enforcement of laws regarding the manufacture and distribution of “HARD” drugs. The people that make and distribute drugs like crank and crack a fully aware of the social cost of their wares and are in essence conspiring to destroy our communities.
But, seriously, the people I’ve known to sell marijuana and MARIJUANA ONLY have always held normal if not mid-management work positions and raised healthy kids with productive livees.
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