Some random synopses of related news items that have caught my eye in recent weeks:
-According to Judicial Watch, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service has found that record amounts of drugs, including record amounts of heroin in particular, have been pouring over the southern border from Mexico.
-The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both rate the United States as the world’s largest consumer of both illegal drugs and prescription drugs.
-According to Time magazine, heroin use in America increased 63% between 2002 and 2013.
-Beginning around the turn of the century (2000) more people began dying from drug use than from alcohol for the first time in history.
-This past year (2016), Chicago recorded the highest rate of homicides that city has experienced in the last twenty years.
-Canada has approved the use of pharmaceutical heroin for addicts who are unable to beat their addiction.
Notice any pattern?
I first realized America had lost the war on drugs about ten or twelve years ago.
I had been hunting Coues deer with some friends in the mountains of Sonora, Mexico. The way the law works, if you have a successful hunt in Mexico and you wish to bring a trophy back with you, you may only cross the border at certain designated spots where you must present your trophy and paperwork to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for clearance. The closest spot to where we had been hunting was the border checkpoint in Douglas (Arizona)/Agua Prieta (Mexico). Our party was the only group returning from a hunt, but the Fish and Wildlife Service was in no hurry to do its job, and to kill the time I fell into conversation with a US Border Patrol K9 agent. He had a Malinois, a breed I admire, and we were talking about aptitude and training and one thing or another when suddenly the officer was called away.
More time passed, and then I saw a gaggle of Border Patrol agents carrying what looked like wine boxes wrapped in plastic-wrap and duct tape, with one officer escorting a man in handcuffs, and the K9 officer bringing up the rear. He told me they had arrested the man for attempting to smuggle hashish into the States. I asked what was going to happen to the smuggler.
“He’s an American, so we’ll send him north.”
“You mean he’ll be prosecuted in a jurisdiction up north somewhere?” I asked.
“No, I mean we’ll turn him loose on this side of the border.”
“What?! I saw you guys carrying all those boxes. That was several hundred pounds of hashish and you’re going to turn him loose?”
“Actually, he didn’t have that much, not even two hundred pounds, but if it’s anything less than 299 pounds, we don’t even bother to prosecute.”
That was the day I realized America had lost the war on drugs. Today, if what I hear is accurate, the new level for prosecution in Arizona is 499 pounds. Since it apparently varies from state to state, you might be surprised to know that in Texas, according to Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County Arizona, you would have to be caught with over—over—750-kilograms, or 1,653 pounds of the stuff before you would get prosecuted. When you consider the potential profit margin versus the non-existent chance of being prosecuted (unless you go really big-time), drug smuggling suddenly becomes a very attractive employment opportunity for those with certain skills and a certain mindset.
I read somewhere, several years ago, an article positing the theory that, with certain exceptions, specific traits remain relatively constant among all peoples in all places around the world, so that a given percentage of people will always be prone to addiction in any society, while another percentage will be equally immune to addictive tendencies. I suspect that is accurate, but whether it is or not, we really, really, need to learn from the past, in this case our own, recent, American past.
Prohibition became the law of the land with the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. It gave rise to organized crime (most colorfully and bloodily in Chicago, I believe); was the catalyst for some of the bloodiest turf wars imaginable (until our current era); made a handful of unscrupulous and violent men laughably rich; caused a spike in homicide rates per 100,000 unequaled until the recent drug wars; encouraged a generation of bright young things to drink much more heavily than they would have had drinking been legal, by adding a new, wild-and-illicit glamor to drinking that it had not possessed before (the young are always attracted to the risky and the forbidden); cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when such tax revenues were desperately needed to offset the effects of the Great Depression; and proved itself so ineffectual and so widely ignored that it was repealed with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933.
With all that in mind, I think it is well past time to reconsider our national position on drug use, all drugs, across the board.
Twenty-four states currently allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia) allow legal, recreational use, while California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts recently passed similar recreational use measures. Other states have a confusing and frequently contradictory patchwork quilt of laws and regulations. This in spite of the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, being considered a Schedule I drug, a situation which must have a lot of law enforcement officers scratching their heads, or shaking them, but what can they do? Article VI of the Constitution contains something called the Supremacy Clause, which spells out very clearly that every state “shall be bound” by the federal law. However, under Barack Hussein Obama, the federal government has treated marijuana with a wink and nod. Most authorities agree that marijuana is a gateway drug; that may or may not be true, but if the federal government is going to allow states to ignore the Supremacy Clause and make up their own laws regarding marijuana, it is long past time for the Feds to change the law regarding that particular drug, and if they’re going to change the law and their attitudes toward marijuana, why not toward cocaine? Or heroin? Or, hell, the whole shooting match?
Before you close this site in outrage, let me give my rationale.
First, consider the lessons of Prohibition. It’s no coincidence that the cities with the highest rate of illegal drug use are the cities with the highest rates of homicide: Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Indianapolis… The list continues. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to draw direct correlations, in part because drug use is not tracked by city, even though the cities mentioned above all have well-established reputations as distribution hubs, and in part because there are also weird anomalies. Oakland, for example, has a very high murder rate, but neighboring San Francisco, which is off the charts for drug use, does not have an abnormally high murder rate. Is that because San Francisco has an exceptionally tolerant attitude toward drug use, or is it because Oakland is the actual distribution center? I don’t know. What I do know can be summed up by the words of a former law enforcement officer who was in charge of the narcotics division in a large California city: “If you could take all illegal drugs out of existence, the murder rate in America would drop by 95%. Maybe more.”
There is not enough room in this article for me to list every city in America that is considered a “hub” city (i.e. a distribution center), nor is it possible to state that any one city holds the title of “hub” capitol, because so many cities qualify, depending on the drugs sold in that particular region, but numerous sources (research it for yourself) say Chicago holds the record, hands down, for having the greatest number of gangs and the greatest number of gang members.
“Gang” is itself a somewhat misleading term. Is a local branch of a Mexican drug cartel considered a gang or something else? Are any of the so-called organized crime groups (Mafia, Jewish Mafia, Irish Mob, and so on) considered gangs or something else? What do you call a local gang that enters into a collaborative arrangement with a drug cartel or an organized crime family? Is it still a gang, or is it considered something else? What about the local splinter groups that have devolved down from larger organizations; are they considered gangs in their own right or something else? That last grouping is significant because many of the homicides that occur in the inner cities, Chicago or any other city, are committed by splinter groups that have devolved down from the true gangs (think MS-13, Latin Kings, Crips, Hells Angels, Aryan Brotherhood, and so many, literally hundreds, more) and each splinter group has its own local loyalties and its own local power struggles.
It doesn’t matter. No matter how you look at it or what you call it, all of these criminal entities are fueled by the illegal drug market, and they are all notable for their bloody ruthlessness when it comes to protecting their turf, which is to say, their local market share. Hence the return to the headlines of Al Capone’s day in today’s papers.
And yet, when Sixty Minutes did a segment on the Chicago problem, the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, refused to talk to them. Instead his office issued a terse statement blaming lax gun laws, emphasizing the need for more gun laws, and talking about their plan to offer after-school programs for inner city youth. Oh, yeah. After school programs will solve the drug/gang problem alright. What is that old saw about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Not once, not one single goddamned time, was the word “drugs” even mentioned in that statement. It reminded me of Barack Obama’s refusal to utter the words “radical Islamic terror.” As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, if you can’t even bring yourself to admit the nature of the problem, how are you going to solve the problem?
(For the record, there are ninety-three Federal prosecutorial districts where the U.S. Attorney has the responsibility of prosecuting federal crimes, including violations of federal gun laws, and Chicago ranks last—dead last, you should pardon the expression—when it comes to prosecuting gun violations, so Br’er Emanuel’s call for more laws rings as hollow as his contention that after school programs will take the place of broken families, crappy schools, non-existent job opportunities, peer pressure, and the glamorous magnet of money and power offered by the gangs through the drug market. I can understand the mayor lying to advance his own career or agenda, but it strikes me as the ultimate in callous and Machiavellian selfishness to do so over the bodies of so many murdered children.)
So, if the illegal drug trade is responsible for thousands of homicides across the country, that number would be mitigated if drugs were legalized.
The gangs that control distribution in our cities, and their employers, the drug cartels of Mexico, Latin and South America, would eventually be put out of business if the United States legalized drugs. That loss of business might have an impact on some of the more corrupt politicians in the involved cities and countries, but the countless tens of thousands of innocent civilians who have lost family members in the crossfire would breathe a sigh of relief.
Legalized drugs would cease to have the glamorous attraction of illegality. Not immediately, and perhaps not completely, but if legalization were accompanied with the kind of negative imaging that has proven effective with smoking, it would certainly accomplish more than the wink-and-nod approach to an illegal product.
If the United States legalized drugs, it would also then have some control over the drugs that flow into the country and possibly profit from that flow through taxes and tariffs and fees, and with a twenty trillion-dollar debt, we could use a little extra revenue. If nothing else, an enormous amount of money would be saved by not attempting to enforce laws that are routinely ignored, and by not attempting to continue with a policy that has been proven ineffectual at best. The estimates of what might be saved by legalizing drugs range from a low of $31-billion to a high of over $41-billion. That could fix a lot of infrastructure.
The government could also monitor and regulate the drugs, ensuring a far more consistent degree of quality. Since deaths attributed to illegal drug use are estimated to be around 17,000 annually (that’s just one estimate; others vary, mostly higher) government monitoring and distribution would, at the very least, greatly reduce that number, if not eliminate it. As a young lady I know said, “I don’t want to see anyone smoking meth, but if they’re going to do it, I would much rather see it be made as safe as possible.” (Prescription drug overdoses are a different issue, and estimates vary for that too.)
There are probably other benefits I’m not smart enough to have thought of, and I’m sure there are at least a thousand-and-one reasons not to legalize drugs, and I’m also sure there are other, alternative solutions, but you have to admit we have lost the war and it is long past the time when we should try something—anything—else. If anyone has better ideas, feel free to weigh in.