Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Drug War Failure

Drug War Failure

Another study has been released that shows that our benighted policy on drug consumption has failed, according to the Washington Times. While this can not be surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, this study points out that both availability (up) and price (down) are going in the opposite direction to what the entire War on (some) Drugs has promised:
The report conducted by the Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organization that has the stated goal of trying to "reorient U.S. drug control policy to the region," concludes that U.S. policy geared toward "reducing drug abuse and availability in the United States" from a "supply-reduction model does not work."

Citing falling wholesale and retail cocaine and heroin prices and collateral damage suffered in Latin American countries as a result of U.S. anti-drug policy, Joy Olson, executive director of WOLA, said, "We've been tough on drugs, now it's time to get smart on drugs."
But the most disturbing part of all of this is the chilling effect that the war has had on our government's relationship with the truth. As the Times says:
The three-year study, "Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy," includes independently recorded data and unreleased studies carried out by the Rand Corporation for the Office of National Drug Control Policy that were leaked to WOLA by a congressional office, according to John Walsh, WOLA senior associate for the Andes and drug policy.

Walsh and a senior adviser at the ONDCP confirmed the initial report had been submitted to the office in spring 2004 but has not yet been released.
When our government hides and obfuscates the truth, commissions and then 86s a study critical of one of its policies, the entire fabric of our democracy is diminished. When our "Drug Czar" refuses to debate, or even take questions from any journalist who has not been previously vetted by his department, we slip further down the slope into unresponsive, and unrepresentative government.

If such a debate would be held, any zero base thinker would first examine the very basis of our policy, before delving into the arcana of its implementation:
Over the last 25 years U.S. policy has tried to attack the war on drugs from a supply-side perspective. Through the eradication of coca crops in producing countries, interdicting drug shipments to the United States and jailing drug offenders, authorities were hoping to significantly drive up the cost of cocaine and heroin -- thus reducing cocaine's economic appeal to potential users.

However, the attempted siphoning of the supply side has lowered street prices and increased the number of incarcerated drug offenders, driving up government spending, without significantly reducing the amount of drug flow, the study's findings show.

Data compiled by WOLA show that since 1981 the retail price for 2 grams of cocaine went from $544.59 to $106.54 in 2003. Retail heroin prices mirrored the decline in cocaine prices, falling from $1,974.49 to $361.95 during the period.

Walsh noted that "price estimates are manifestations of supply and demand" and thus are the most accurate indicators to "determine what is coming in."

The number of incarcerated drug offenders rose from 45,272 to 480,519 from 1981 to 2002, and government spending on overseas supply control rose from $373.9 million to $3.6 billion from 1981 to 2004.
Once again, government has failed to observe the emperor's new clothes. That is, when they seek to drive up the cost, they are, if successful, driving up the profit motive for the criminals who pursue this business. When they are unsuccessful, as in the present instance, they lower the barriers to entry into the business. Thus there are ever more young recruits into this trade.

This is enough to make one tear one's hair out. The government claims to seek to make drug abuse more rare. Instead, they create a new criminal class. Now that the failure of their policy becomes more and more clear, they seek to hide the evidence. Meanwhile, collateral damage (see yesterday's post, below) increases, and government, rather than attempting to remedy the problem, merely increases the budget of the failed bureaucracy. For just one instance of this, the government has instituted a policy of spraying poison on the Colombian and Bolivian hillsides where coca cultivation is believed to take place. At first, the poison kills everything, both the drug crop and any legal crop that is grown in the area dies. That is bad enough, but recent reports show that the growers have developed poison resistant plants, so the spraying has the effect of performing the weeding that the illicit growers previously have had to do themselves. Government's answer? Increase spraying 50%.

When our government decided to ban alcohol, they figured that they would need a constitutional amendment to accomplish this legally. When they sought to ban marijuana, they levied a tax. But over the years, they passed ever more restrictive legislation, with little public complaint. Now, when a case against any little element of this anti-drug approach makes it to the Supreme Court, the government's response is to claim that, if the supremes restrict the government's little war, it would be an intolerable burden on the judiciary, as hundreds of thousands of appeals might be filed. In the case argued Monday, in which two women are accused of growing a few marijuana plants for their own use, the government claimed that this activity interferes with interstate commerce, since otherwise they would have to buy regular prescriptions. (That's after the bit where they claimed that marijuana has no efficacy as a medicine in the first place.) Under this analysis, anything at all that a citizen does interferes with interstate commerce. All choices are economic to an economist. Getting married reduces the profits of pimps. Going to the bathroom spurs sales of toilet paper. If interstate commerce can be construed this broadly, then there is no hope left for the enumerated powers set forth in our constitution.

It would seem that the mendacity of our government knows few if any boundaries. They pursue a blatantly unconstitutional "war," and lie to protect their right to continue to do so. They silence debate, and then hide studies and polls that show that their policy is not only ineffective, but unpopular. We are ruled by two parties whose main differences are in the personalities of the candidates, rather than any substantive policy split. Didn't Kerry just run a campaign where he said that he would have done exactly what Bush has done, only better? At some point the people must demand that their government be responsive to them. Or not.