In unsurprising news, the War on Drugs continues to be farcical disgrace. In the most recent example of ineptitude and futility, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has released a report about an unprecedented rise in the development of new psychoactive substances (NPS). They also admit that the new illicit substances can actually be more dangerous than the ones the US has been attempting to eradicate for decades.
The UNODC reports:
“This is an alarming drug problem – but the drugs are legal. Sold openly, including via the internet, NPS, which have not been tested for safety, can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs. Street names, such as “spice”, “meow-meow” and “bath salts” mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun. Given the almost infinite scope to alter the chemical structure of NPS, new formulations are outpacing efforts to impose international control. While law enforcement lags behind, criminals have been quick to tap into this lucrative market. The adverse effects and addictive potential of most of these uncontrolled substances are at best poorly understood.”
The irony is that if drugs like marijuana, cocaine and opium were legal and regulated, these new designer drugs probably would never have been created. After all, why buy a substance that can imitate a pot high when you can just pick up some pot? Keeping these drugs illegal ensures a market for alternatives, regardless of how much more dangerous they may be.
The UNODC even admits that there is no way to control these new creations because of the sheer complexity of their chemical structures. However, this won’t stop governments from trying to eliminate these new drugs by using force, the only tool they know. Over 40 states have enacted bans on synthetic cannabinoids alone. This futile game of Whack-a-Drug-Mole goes on.
The War on Drugs exacerbates the problems of illicit substances because it artificially lowers the supply, but can do nothing about the demand. Oriana Zill and Lowell Bergman of PBS’ FRONTLINE “War on Drugs” special explain:
“What keeps the drug industry going is its huge profit margins. Producing drugs is a very cheap process. Like any commodities business the closer you are to the source the cheaper the product. Processed cocaine is available in Colombia for $1500 dollars per kilo and sold on the streets of America for as much as $66,000 a kilo (retail). Heroin costs $2,600/kilo in Pakistan, but can be sold on the streets of America for $130,000/kilo (retail). And synthetics like methamphetamine are often even cheaper to manufacture costing approximately $300 to $500 per kilo to produce in clandestine labs in the US and abroad and sold on US streets for up to $60,000/kilo (retail).”
There is intense competition to sell such a profitable product. The real, underlying problem with illegal drugs isn’t that they are dangerous—alcohol and tobacco are plenty dangerous– it’s that disputes are solved with gang violence rather than corporate lawsuits. It’s not as if Gang A can call the police or file a legal complaint when Gang B does something unseemly. A legal judicial framework is necessary to eliminate the violence now associated with the drug trade. After all, the same brutality was seen during America’s failed experiment with Prohibition in the 1920s when rival mob bosses were fighting for control over hooch. Alcohol is once again legal: When was the last time Coors and Anheuser-Busch had a violent turf war?
Like Prohibition in the 20s, the immense profitability of illicit substances has lead to an explosion in crime. In Mexico alone, drug-related violence claimed the lives of an estimated 60,000 people since 2006. Especially hard hit are journalists who try to shed light on the activity of the cartels. Mexico is the fourth most dangerous country for reporters, ranking behind only Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan. Over 50 have died or disappeared in the past seven years. In 2012, the bodies of two mutilated corpses were found tied up and dangling from a pedestrian bridge in Nuevo Laredo. A sign above them threatens:
“This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet. You better fucking pay attention. I’m about to get you.”
Whereas Samsung and Apple intimidate each other through legal action, drug cartels rely on more visceral tactics.
For all that drug war proponents get wrong about the evils of illicit substances, they have inadvertently stumbled onto a profound truth: Marijuana is indeed a gateway drug. However, rather than being an inevitable rung on the ladder to harder drugs, pot is instead almost universally a person’s first entryway into the black market. It teaches people how to find drug dealers and how to negotiate with them. It teaches them the rules of underground markets and how to avoid the police. It teaches and constantly reinforces a contempt for authority.
Some do use this information to seek out new highs, but nowhere near the amount that drug warriors would have one fear. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 12th-graders overwhelmingly prefer the softer stuff. The highest level of use in 2012 was alcohol, with 41.5% reporting that they had partaken in the past month. The second highest rate was marijuana with 22.9% having toked in the past 30 days. After that the usage rates nosedive: 1.1% for cocaine, .5% for methamphetamine, and .3% for heroin.
Exactly like Prohibition in the 1920s, current drug policy actively makes drug use more dangerous than it would be otherwise. For most high school students, it is dramatically easier to buy pot rather than alcohol for the blindingly simple reason that drug dealers don’t check for IDs. Another sinister aspect of prohibition is the lack of quality control. Pure coke or heroin can be cut with myriad substances in order to stretch the dealer’s supply and increase profits. Often these drugs are mixed with harmless products like baking soda, but not always. Dealers around the country have recently been cutting their heroin with fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller. The combination is extremely potent and often deadly. Since 2006, hundreds of deaths in Chicago alone have been attributed to this potentiality lethal combination.
By keeping business deals securely in the black market, drug prohibition ensures that users are at the whim of their providers. They certainly can’t call the cops if a dealer spikes his supply. Their only real recourse is to either shut their mouths or try to deal out some street justice, which only further exacerbates the problems of prohibition.
It’s time to end the damaging and pointless War on Drugs. While we’re at it, maybe we can end all wars against nouns. The War on Poverty and the War on Terror don’t seem to be terribly successful either, do they?