Pubdate: Wed, 14 Feb 2007
Source: Philadelphia City Paper (PA)
Copyright: 2007 CP Communications, Inc.
Author: David Faris
Note: David Faris is a frequent Slant contributor.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The Drug War Claims More Lives Than Drugs Themselves.

Now that we have the official 2006 Philadelphia murder tally -- 406 
killings -- we can start talking about ways to lower it. But wringing 
our hands and singing songs of solidarity isn't going to cut it. And 
it's unlikely that anyone will seriously propose changing the 
ruinously expensive and counterproductive drug policies that make 
Philadelphia one of the most violent cities in the country.

By the end of January, the U.S. had already spent well over $4 
billion just this year trying to prevent people from putting 
controlled substances up their noses and into their veins. The War on 
Drugs -- what is it with Americans and declaring war on indefinite 
nouns? -- creates a predictable netherworld of nefarious suppliers 
and dealers who turn to violence to settle scores and turf wars. No 
matter how hard the police may work to disrupt these networks, they 
end up plowing the sea. And all that drug money leads inevitably to corruption.

The problems don't stop there. The long reach of America's 
coke-starved nostrils wreaks havoc on producing countries, as well. 
In places like Colombia and Afghanistan, drug production funds 
terrorist organizations and fuels debilitating civil wars. If drug 
farmers could sell their wares legally, central governments would 
benefit from a tax bonanza, and the global price of prescription 
narcotics would come down.

Locally, the drug war destroys more lives than Eagles playoff games 
and turns peaceful neighborhoods into killing fields. Addicts who 
could be getting treatment from state-controlled clinics end up on 
the streets, committing crimes to get their hands on their drug of 
choice. People who might otherwise pursue above-the-board careers 
take the easy road of drug-dealing (although as economist Stephen 
Levitt has shown, most low-level drug dealers make less than minimum wage).

Not only does drug prohibition send violent crime through the roof, 
it also sends millions of people into the criminal justice system, 
many of them young minorities who will never find the straight path 
again. And of course, it is the beleaguered U.S. taxpayer who gets 
the bill for this system of mass incarceration. And America that ends 
up with a higher percentage of its citizens in prison than the 
Khrushchev-era U.S.S.R.

No one should pretend that decriminalizing drugs will instantly solve 
Philadelphia's crime and killing problems. Instant solutions to 
intractable problems exist only in the minds of ninth-graders and 
Heritage Foundation scholars. But neither should we pretend that 
there is no correlation between violent crime and drug prohibition.

Philadelphia can't change drug laws on its own. Even if City Council 
were to pass a drug-legalization law that established a pot brownie 
factory at 20th and Christian streets, state and federal officials 
would swoop in and shut down the whole operation. There simply aren't 
any politicians with stature and capital who think there should be 
any basic changes to America's drug laws. And anyone who argues 
publicly that the drug war is a budget-draining fiasco is quickly 
shown the door to political oblivion. Just ask former New Mexico Gov. 
Gary Johnson, who retired more popular than Clinton yet was treated 
like a pariah by his own party for supporting the legalization of drugs.

Predictably, it is distant elites who benefit from the largesse of 
the War on Drugs, and denizens of forgotten big cities who suffer the 
consequences. Meanwhile, people like U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob 
Casey can make the easy choice to maintain the status quo because 
they probably aren't touched by drug crime and because there are so 
many entrenched interests that lead them to support prohibition, from 
prison guards to Drug Enforcement Administration agents to state 
governments who love raking in the cash to fight a war they all know 
they can't win.

While we wait for the politicians to figure it out, or for social 
libertarians to forge a political coalition, cities like Philadelphia 
will continue to suffer. And hundreds of lives seems like an awfully 
high price to pay for someone else's failed "war."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake