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article imageOp-Ed: An economic study for decriminalizing hard-core drugs

By Nancy Houser     Jan 11, 2013 in Crime
Drug traffickers who do not get caught make lots of money. This allows them to corrupt officials, kill law enforcement officers, and destroy competition with hired thugs, illegal assault weapons and ammunition clips – in a cost-effective manner.
Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy of the University of Chicago have called for the full decriminalization of drug sales and their use, posted in the Washington Post; drugs included are heroin, meth, crack, and other hard drugs.
And, their request is not without merit. Drug traffickers are not the type of people to be trusted, resulting with the poor and uneducated dying, cheated or being mistreated because of drugs that were once legal.
The Opium Poppy. The white  milky latex being exuded in this image is raw opium. The active ingredie...
The Opium Poppy. The white, milky latex being exuded in this image is raw opium. The active ingredient in opium is morphine, a very addictive substance. Raw opium is refined into morphine base in crude field laboratories. Morphine base is a sticky, brown paste which can either be smoked or processed into heroin. Once processed into heroin, the drug is usually shipped out to nations throughout the world.
KGM007 / Wikimedia
The United Nations General Assembly labels illegal drugs and human trafficking (referred to as "modern day slavery") as the fastest growing form of transnational organized crime. The term transnational originated from a seminal essay written by the radical intellectual Randolph Bourne in the early 1900s, described as “a new way of thinking about relationships between cultures.”
Early drug laws in the United States
Why would anyone in the United States wish to decriminalize the sale and use of heroin, meth, crack, and other hard drugs? If so, in what manner would it influence the nation's economy?
I had taken a Wyoming class for my minor in psychology several years back, titled Drugs, Society, Human Behavior, looking at U.S. drug laws that were supposedly passed for the good of the public. The drug laws evolved in response to each crisis in society.
When the Harrison Narcotic Act was passed and signed into law in 1915, it was viewed as the nation’s first attempt at narcotic control by cutting off the supply of legal opiates to addicts.
"... the law apparently intended to ensure the orderly marketing of narcotics was converted into a law prohibiting the supplying of narcotics to addicts, even on a physician's prescription."
Many physicians were convicted and imprisoned at this time, with abuses in the sale of illegal narcotic drugs rising, with a black market in mind-altering drugs developing. Even the slightest suspicion that a pharmacist or physician was involved with illegal drugs would destroy their career and future.
The chief proponent of the measure was Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a man of deep prohibitionist and missionary convictions and sympathies. (He served under President Woodrow Wilson at this time)
The term “narcotics officers” came into play at this time, as the Harrison Act controlled the use of opiates and cocaine; the Treasury itself became known as the Narcotics Division. It was also the groundwork for today’s federally-controlled substance regulations. However, there was a problem from the start. Two federal bureaus were involved with two different types of regulations for the same drug. Failure of the War on Drugs had already begun.
The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was administered within the Department of Agriculture. The Harrison Narcotic Act was administered by the Treasury Department; responsible for enforcing the Prohibition and taxing alcohol.
One of its primary proponents was Harvey W. Wiley, chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, whose research into food adulteration caused him to be concerned about serious threats to the public’s health. Aggressive and sometimes sensational journalists, known as Muckrakers, took on the issues of food and drug dangers, bringing a great deal of pressure on the administration of Theodore Roosevelt to pass legislation regulating the industry.
What would result was that each federal agency would administer its own law for the same drug. Each resulting drug law would be different from its original purpose. It was at this time that the term narcotics changed in its political meaning; federal laws began to classify cocaine and marijuana as narcotics, as both were considered habit forming with a dramatic psychotic state, changing a person’s behavior.
Failure of the Drug War
In 1924, the U.S. government made heroin unavailable to heroin addicts. Today, it looks as if they have consistently failed in their efforts, not only with heroin but all hard drugs. The price of illegal heroin is much higher than the cost of the drug if sold legally.
In 1937, marijuana was officially added to the list of federally-controlled narcotics. In 1965, hallucinogens, amphetamines, and barbiturates were added to the list. But as narcotics and hard drugs became more scarce, the illegal drug market grew.
Harsher sentences and increased federal government control have failed to control the black market, originally intended by the federal government. In 2004, the lowering prices of heroin and cocaine showed that the war on drugs was failing.
What is compounding the problem is that the Controlled Substances Act bases their list on abuse potential, not medical usage. Marijuana is a prime example of a changing drug found to have a necessary medical use --- treating nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy agents and as a treatment for glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
The Washington Office on Latin America, citing the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the street price of 2 grams of cocaine averaged $106 in the first half of 2003, down 14 percent from the previous year's average and the lowest price in 20 years.
However, figures released by the U.S. government have been labeled as misleading, which was not denied. According to HighTimes, "The Washington Office on Latin America accused the White House drug-policy office of not releasing price and purity numbers since 2000 because the data were 'inconvenient'."
The organization said that not only had the price of cocaine on U.S. streets dropped to a fifth of its 1981 level, but heroin was much cheaper too. A gram of heroin, which cost $329 in 1981, sold for $60 in the first half of 2003, it said.
Price of the War on Drugs in the United States
A DEA FAST team prepares to raid a residence in Afghanistan in search of opium. Opium can be process...
A DEA FAST team prepares to raid a residence in Afghanistan in search of opium. Opium can be processed into heroin, a highly addictive narcotic, which can then be shipped out of the country by the Taliban or al-Qaida to the streets of European cities. Proceeds recieved by the Taliban or al-Qaida from the trafficked heroin may be used to fuel the insurgency against the U.S. and coalition troops or fund future acts of terrorism.
Screen capture - ABC News
The Bush Administration alone spent over $3 billion dollars in Columbia to halt drug trafficking, while street prices were going down. This means that Columbia drugs were being sold in large numbers in the U.S. --- another cost effective strategy --- on the side of the drug traffickers, not the federal government.
In 2011, a new report from the Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) came out that compared the price of illegal drug use in the country to the overwhelming problem of diabetes.
DrugFree reports "The study, The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society, was produced on behalf of the Office of National Drug Control Policy," which found that illegal drug use was costing the U.S. economy an alarming $193 billion a year, which began to rise in 2007.
When President Reagan renewed efforts for the Drug War in 1982, he included various departments within the U.S. government: the DEA; FBI; IRS; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau; Immigration and Naturalization; U.S. Marshals; U.S. Customs Service; Coast Guard; and the Defense Department's tracking and pursuit services. Today we also use Air Force radar and aircraft, along with Navy patrol boats that can detect and track any drug-carrying boats or aircraft entering the country. By 1997, the Defense Department was already spending over $1 billion dollars on drug interdiction activities.
According to research published in The Clinical Journal of Pain, the economic costs associated with the non-medical use of prescription opiates increased from $8.6 billion in 2001 to $53.4 billion in 2006, which includes costs to the health care and criminal justice systems as well as costs to the workplace from lost productivity. Emergency department visits involving non-medical use of pharmaceuticals (misuse or abuse) almost doubled between 2004 and 2009, representing a 98.4 percent increase.
On June 15, 2012, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) closed. But on May 26, 2011, Charles Miller of the U.S. Department of Justice released a letter titled, "NATIONAL DRUG INTELLIGENCE CENTER RELEASES REPORT ON ECONOMIC IMPACT OF ILLICIT DRUG USE ON AMERICAN SOCIETY, " the first comprehensive assessment of costs associated with drug use in close to ten years.
"According to a 2008 study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
Kidney Diseases, diabetes costs the United States more than $174 billion each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that from 1995 to 1999, smoking accounted for at least $157 billion annually in health-related economic costs."
The study shows statistical findings of economic costs in the three principal areas: crime, health, and productivity. "Crime is found to comprise the largest share of total costs at
more than $113 billion, while productivity costs are shown to be more than $68 billion. This
results from counting incarceration and homicide components of lost productivity as crime-related."
It costs the federal government and tax citizens over $35,000 annually to convict a drug offender, not including court costs, lawyer fees, financial and medical care for the family while they are gone, or medical/mental health care of released drug offenders. It also does not include any previous jail sentences or hospital care for the offender before they are released.
It is no wonder that Ron Paul wished to legalize heroin in the United States. But of the countries that have legalized hard drugs, there have been many success stories, showing that legalizing illegal drugs could make a huge impact on bringing down the country's deficit.
The country with the most liberal drug laws and with the worst reputation for the highest level of hard-drug use in Europe is Portugal --- "the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine."
... jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy.
The argument for it was that fear of prison drove drug addicts underground to purchase drugs, driving up the black-market for illegal drugs. Another argument in its favor was the prison is more expensive than drug therapy or treatment. Anyone found guilty of small amounts of drugs will begin work with a panel --- a psychologist, a social worker, and a legal adviser --- instead of going to jail. Either way, they can refuse without fear of criminal punishment.
According to the Time/Science and Space, " ... in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled."
The United States drug policy debate over the years has been based on "speculation and fear mongering," at least according to the [url=http:// online Time article. The good news is that the states of California, New York and Massachusetts are reconsidering the nation's overly-punitive drug laws and looking at Portugal's laws.
Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal's, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.
On June 2, 2011, a high-level international panel of 19-members, criticizing the War on Drugs as a failure. The Washington Post reported that the panel consisted of "former presidents of Mexico; Brazil and Columbia; Greece's prime minister; former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. officials George P. Schultz and Paul Volcker, the writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, and British billionaire Richard Branson.
The panel called on all governments to experiment with the intent of decriminalizing the use of marijuana and hard drugs, with the sole intent of undermining the power of organized crime. Their report, compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, "concludes that criminalization and repressive measures have failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."
A high-level international panel criticized the war on drugs, at a cost of over $1 trillion, as a failure Thursday and called on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, in order to undermine the power of organized crime.
Compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the report concludes that criminalization and repressive measures have failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
Instead of punishing drug users, the commission argues that governments should “end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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