LOOK AT 'DRUG WAR' / By Suzanne Wills
Re: "A Culture of Murder," Sunday Page One.
Kudos to The Dallas Morning News for correctly identifying the cause of Dallas' obscene murder rate as the "drug trade" instead of Police Chief David Kunkle's more abstruse term, the "drug issue."
In 1900, when one could legally buy cannabis, cocaine and morphine, the national murder rate was 1.2 per 100,000 people. It soared to 9.7 per 100,000 when alcohol was illegal. It dropped during the 1950s but soared again after Richard Nixon declared the drug war we fight today.
The harder the drug war is fought, the more lucrative and dangerous the drug trade. The more kids grow up without hope for a life outside the slums, the more attractive it becomes.
Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Dallas
Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jan 2005
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
In 1984, Colorado’s adult prison population was less than 4,000 inmates. As of October, 2004, including community corrections, but excluding county jails, parole and probation, the inmate population was over 19,800. Moreover, in just the last decade, corrections spending has more than doubled to over $469.7 million in FY ’03-’04 and more than half a billion dollars has been appropriated for prison expansion and new prison construction…and it is still not enough.
If a more than 400 percent increase in incarceration resulted in an equal size reduction in violent and property crimes, this all would be justifiable. This has not been the case.
The reason for this lack of correlation is decades of irrational sentencing policies for non-violent and consensual drug offenses. Since 1985, the percentage of Colorado prisoners locked up for drug offenses has quadrupled. Drug offenders now make up more than 20 percent of Colorado’s prison population. In FY 2003, over 1,500 drug offenders were committed to Colorado prisons, the single largest category of offender by far.
Also in 2003, the legislature authorized the construction of a new, 948-bed Colorado State Penitentiary II through a highly dubious debt-financing scheme, which is tied up in a lawsuit over its constitutionality. Even if CSP II is built, Colorado could immediately fill it beyond capacity with just one year’s worth of drug offenders.
Things are only going to get worse. Prison population projections by both the Division of Criminal Justice Research Office and the Legislative Council Staff merge in 2009 to roughly 25,500 inmates. Colorado’s state prisons are already over-filled (109.8% of design capacity in 2003), creating both a dangerous situation for corrections personnel and a demand for more prisons. According to the Colorado Department of Corrections, “Eight hundred twenty-eight additional beds were needed in 2003 to cover the difference between admissions and releases.” Yet Colorado can’t afford to build more prisons out of the general fund (thus the constitutionally questionable debt scheme).
In 1985, the Colorado legislature doubled the maximum penalty of the presumptive sentencing range for felony crimes. The result, as DOC describes it, “The average length of stay projected for new commitments nearly tripled… from 20 months in 1980, to a high of 57 months in 1989.” Colorado’s prison population quickly doubled by 1990, as did the percentage of prisoners whose most serious crime was a drug offense.
While longer sentences for certain classes of criminal are a fine idea, placing non-violent drug offenses, including sales/manufacture, in the same sentencing scheme as violent and property crimes makes no sense. It is an ongoing debate as to whether prison either deters crime or rehabilitates offenders, but it is unquestioned that prison incapacitates criminals.
In November, 2004, Denver police arrested a suspect known as the “Raspy Robber,” believed responsible for a long string of robberies and with a long criminal record.
Imprison one “Raspy Robber” and there is one less robber on the street. There is no new potential robber simply waiting for a new robbery territory to open up, once the territory’s current robber goes to prison. The same holds true for pedophiles, serial rapists, burglars and other violent criminals.
But this is not true for drug crimes. The imprisonment of one drug dealer (or even an entire network) only temporarily disrupts the flow of illegal drugs. As soon as one supplier is gone, another quickly moves in to take his place. Basic economic law of supply and demand says that as long as there is a demand for a product, a market will make that product available.
Using incarceration to try and halt the availability of drugs can only be achieved by imprisoning every drug user and addict (who constitute the majority of the small time dealers) and everyone willing to break the law in return for large financial rewards.(dealers in the upper levels of the drug world).
Having doubled in a decade, Colorado’s prison population could double again without achieving that goal. Excessive incarceration for drug offenses is the main reason for Colorado’s ever increasing prison population. The taking in of more inmates than are released will be a continuing drain on the state budget.
One can be an advocate of illegal drugs remaining illegal, but still not advocate filling up the criminal justice system’s most valuable asset—prison beds, with non-violent drug offenders. The Legislature will not be able to seriously address the prison budget crisis without first addressing how drug offenses are prosecuted and punished.
The Independence Institute
13952 Denver West Parkway, Suite 400
Golden, CO 80401
Bush Report on Drug Imports Good Data, Bad Conclusions
Some recent headlines:
"HHS reports drug imports likely won't save money."
"Net saving on drug import not worth action."
"Legalizing drug imports not worth it."
"Bush panel sees scant savings in drug imports."
These were based on a report released two weeks ago by the Department of Health and Human Services which concluded that "total savings to drug buyers from legalized commercial importation would be 1 to 2 percent of total drug spending."
If this were true, reimportation of drugs would never take off. Why, then, would the drug industry spend so much time fighting this plan? What is it that the drug companies know but that the Department of Health and Human Services doesn't want you to understand?
The answer is that the data in the report don't support the department's conclusions.
The research in the report actually indicates the possibility of saving 17.5 percent, or $37.8 billion, annually in the United States. And this also explains the drug industry's fear of importation.
The department's conclusion that reimportation will not result in significant savings is built on the premise as stated in the report that "imported drugs may be around 12 percent of total use ... because drug companies have incentives to impede exports." This assumption doesn't take into account that reimportation bills would make it illegal to limit supply something the drug companies are keenly aware of but the Department of Health and Human Services completely forgot.
The second faulty premise is that "U.S. drug buyers may get discounts of only 20 percent or less, with the rest of the difference between U.S. and foreign prices going to commercial importers."
This statement should be contrasted with a chart in the report showing that U.S. retail drug prices are 100 percent higher than in Europe. So this premise assumes unprecedented price gouging by importers and a complete lack of competition among them. Of course, the drug industry knows that is not how the free market works, but the Department of Health and Human Services feigns ignorance.
The third premise in the report is that "about 30 percent of total drug spending may be unchanged by legalizing commercial importation because about that much is now spent on products that are inappropriate for importation." According to the report, these would include such drugs as those used during surgery, those that are injected, controlled substances or low-cost generics.
Let's now do the analysis of savings possible in the United States, based on the data in the report. We know that according to the report drug prices in Europe are at least 50 percent lower than in the United States. Let's be very conservative and assume as much as half of this price difference is captured by greedy importers a pretty unlikely scenario because with such costs, reimportation would never have existed within Europe.
Then we take the report's premise that 30 percent of the U.S. market will not have competition from reimported drugs because they are generics or belong to categories that can't be imported easily.
That leaves 70 percent of the market multiplied by a 25 percent price reduction, for a saving of 17.5 percent on the total U.S. drug bill of $216 billion, resulting in a net saving of $37.8 billion.
This is a simplified analysis, but more complex mathematical models based on the Department of Health and Human Services' research data result in similar savings. In summary, the report has the right data but the wrong conclusions.
Peter Rost is a vice president of marketing at Pfizer; the views expressed here are his own.
1971, President Nixon declared that drugs were America's No. 1 enemy. This date is considered to be the start of the "War on Drugs." Since that time, the War on Drugs has grown to be a costly, ineffective, and damaging policy that has created a tremendous crime problem, sapped federal funds, and imprisoned millions of Americans, all while doing almost nothing to solve the problem of drug abuse. It is imperative that America stops deluding itself into thinking the drug war is effective and begins to enact serious changes. At the bare minimum, medicinal marijuana should be legalized nationwide. Furthermore, minor drugs (e.g. marijuana) should be decriminalized or legalized completely.
The drug war has been an area of U.S. policy that has done far more harm than good. The total cost of the drug war in the year 2000 alone was estimated to be $136 billion. Despite the ever-increasing amount of tax dollars we spend on stopping drug use, the percentage of the population who has used illicit drugs increased from 31.3% to 41.7% in 2001. Much of the money spent on the war on drugs would be better spent if diverted to education and other areas of the budget that are starved for funding. In addition, the taxes gathered from regulation of drug sales would increase government revenue in a time when a balanced budget is thing of the past.
Not only is the drug war costly and ineffective, but it has been a huge detriment to the civilian population of the United States. In 2003, 1.6 million people were arrested for drug abuse violations. Fifty-five percent of federal inmates were sentenced for drug violations. The cost of these incarcerations totals $3 billion every year. However, the costs to society are many times greater. Those incarcerated are no longer able to work, leading to broken families that must look to government welfare for support. Furthermore, those who come out of prison are not likely to be rehabilitated. Around one fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense. In other words, you go into prison a drug user, and you come out a violent criminal.
While many people erroneously believe that drugs have caused a large amount of crime, it is actually the drug war that has caused a large portion of that crime. Gang wars, police shootings, and many other aspects of criminal behavior associated with drugs occur because of the situation created by illegalization, much as Prohibition in the 1920s led to a boom in crime. In fact, if you examine the number of homicides committed during the last century, similar spikes in the homicide rate coincided with both Prohibition and the drug war. Numerous studies have hypothesized that legalization of drugs would decrease violence associated with drugs.
Proposition 215 to legalize medicinal marijuana was passed in 1996 by a 56 percent majority of California voters. This is more California votes than governor Schwarzenegger received when elected. Nine other states have also voted to legalize medicinal marijuana. However, the federal government has done everything in its power to impede this democratically enacted policy. Marijuana is a drug that has so many medicinal benefits that it is difficult to go into much detail here. Suffice to say that it can be used as an effective treatment for conditions including asthma, glaucoma, tumors, epilepsy, arthritis and nausea. The fact that many prescription drugs remain legal while having many more adverse side effects than marijuana is just one example of the hypocrisy of U.S. drug policy. Complete legalization of medicinal marijuana is the first step that should be taken in creating a sound and sensible drug policy.
As I can almost hear my inbox filling with responses from the right-leaning portion of our readership, I'd like to point out that decriminalization of marijuana actually fits within political conservative ideology. When I say that, I am not talking about moral conservatism, but in the basic conservative tenet that government interference in the lives of citizens should be limited, and that people should be responsible for their own choices. Legalization is a victory for small government and personal responsibility.
Many arguments will immediately be raised to my position ----- so I will try to address some of them here. Most prevalent will be the claim that legalization of drugs sends the message to the populace (especially children) that it is OK to take drugs. Furthermore, legalization would increase access to drugs and therefore increase drug use. While some drug use may increase, especially in the short term, this theory is largely untrue. Moreover, legalization of soft drugs like marijuana would most likely decrease the use of harder drugs. This has been the case in the Netherlands where rates of cocaine use among cannabis users are much lower than in the United States.
Decriminalization of minor drugs has all the potential to benefit the United States and little chance of causing serious harm. The illegal drug trade and all the crime associated with it would be severely diminished. The prison system would no longer be overloaded and many homes would no longer be broken. The government would be able to track and regulate drug abuse in an economic market. Taxes raised from drug sales and diverted tax dollars from the drug war would be put to use funding other areas of the government. All of this would occur with relatively little increase in drug use and the potential to actually decrease abuse of hard drugs.
Modified: July 2, 2005