Of all the stupid “wars”

The War on Drugs is probably the dumbest.  In my little opioid-inspired trip on Friday and Saturday, it was encouraging to hear from many in law enforcement that they recognized the ultimate fruitlessness of a “war on drugs” approach.  Even in rural North Carolina, many of the law enforcement professionals recognized the need for a far more holistic, community-oriented approach to drug addiction rather than a “lock up all the drug dealers” approach.

Naturally, Trump and Sessions, fully embrace the War on Drugs approach.  I really liked this NYT Op-Ed that makes a really interesting case for just how misguided this approach is:

Politicians often escalate drug war rhetoric to show voters that they are doing something. But it is rare to ignore generations of lessons as President Trump did earlier this month when he announced his support for the execution of drug traffickers.

This idea is insane. But the war on drugs has never made any sense to begin with.

Executing a few individual smugglers will do little to stop others because there is no high command of the international drug trade to target, no generals who can order a coordinated surrender of farmers, traffickers, money launderers, dealers or users. The drug trade is diffuse and can span thousands of miles from producer to consumer. People enter the drug economy for all sorts of reasons — poverty, greed, addiction — and because they believe they will get away with it. Most people do. The death penalty only hurts the small portion of people who are caught (often themselves minorities and low-level mules)…

Without the drug war, substances like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth are minimally processed agricultural and chemical commodities that cost pennies per dose to manufacture. But lawmakers have invented a modern alchemy called drug prohibition, which transforms relatively worthless products into priceless commodities for which people are willing to kill or die…

An overreliance on intensive policing over the decades has also produced a rapid Darwinian evolution of the drug trade. The people we have typically captured tend to be the ones who are dumb enough to get caught. They may have violated operational security, bragged too much, lived conspicuous lifestyles or engaged in turf wars. The ones we usually miss tend to be the most innovative, adaptable and cunning. We have picked off their clumsy competition for them and opened up that lucrative economic trafficking space to the most efficient organizations. It is as though we have had a decades-long policy of selectively breeding supertraffickers and ensuring the “survival of the fittest.” [emphasis mine]

Of course the ultimate proof-in-the-pudding on how misguided our supply-side efforts on drugs have been can be seen in the ever declining street price of drugs.  I spent far too much time finding a chart on heroin prices up through 2016, but this was the best I could do via Wonkblog:

Meanwhile several additional google searches suggest the street price today is more like $200/gram.  So, just cracking down on heroin dealers basically gets us nowhere.

Drug addiction ruins lives.  But so does a horribly mis-guided “war on drugs.”  Let’s treat this like the public health problem it is, take a harm-reduction approach, and actually be smart about things.  On the bright side, at least many in local law enforcement seem to get this, even if our national “leaders” do not.

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