Replace Our Sick Narcotics Policies

Eric Zuesse

Existing narcotics policies lock-up addicts, punish them, instead of deal with the problem, which is the explosion of burglaries and robberies that are produced by addicts. Those thefts are resulting actually from the inflated, black-market, price that addicts must pay gangsters to feed their addiction. If the drugs were instead sold by the government, at the free-market prices that would exist if these drugs were legally sold over-the-counter as regular non-prescription and unpatented medications (and if the product is grown and manufactured by a government-owned corporation which is the only legal supplier of the product, and which wholesales the product at the price that would prevail if it were produced and marketed as a regular free-market product), then this would immediately put all of the illicit dealers out of business, and it would also immediately end the thefts, which are resulting from the need that addicts have to possess enough money to pay gangsters for their drugs at the current sky-high (artificially high) black-market price.

Addicts already suffer more than enough from their addiction, which does nobody but the gangsters they pay any good. What our government’s existing policies are doing is to force addicts to steal and pay that money to gangsters in order to be able to slake the addict’s need. A person who before addiction might have had no criminal record at all, becomes now a veritable theft-machine, in order to feed his addiction.

Part of the system that is proposed here will be government assistance to addicts, to help them end their addiction, and provide whatever social services are necessary in order to enable addicts to get out of the hole they’re in. There will be no longer a criminal record for anyone’s having been an addict. Addicts won’t become unemployable merely because they had formerly been addicted. An addict who has a theft-conviction on his record for a drug-related reason will also have that theft removed from his record, because the addiction that produced it in today’s black-market situation will be legally recognized as having been of relevance only to the past black-market-driven situation, not to the new, legalized-drug, one. Even if the person remains addicted, he won’t have the expense to pay black-market prices, but only to pay free-market prices (to the authorized government operation), a fraction of today’s narcotics-expenses. Any future theft-convictions, however, will remain on the person’s record in the future, because any such thefts will be unattributable to the addiction, and attributable instead only to an authentic proclivity to steal – and such a person therefore would be like any other thief: someone who deserves to be, and should be, imprisoned: a bad person. All addiction-convictions will be removed from the individual’s record, and all addicts will be helped by the government to get employment, either in any private-sector field, or else in the government service, to become social workers helping to de-zombify the people who continue to be addicted. Those zombies, in that changed legal environment, won’t need to pay exorbitant rates to slake their addiction, and they’ll therefore be vastly less likely to steal, and they certainly won’t need to steal the huge amounts they formerly had to steal, since the drugs will be free-market priced. So, these government social workers will encounter a far less challenging situation than today’s drug-counselors do. Far less.

The increase in economic productivity from this change will be enormous. Former zombies will now become productive regular people. They might formerly have been productive until they had gotten imprisoned by addiction and by the existing stupid governmental policies regarding addiction; but, under the new system, the government-stupidity will have ended, and everyone will have free access to well-staffed post-addiction support-services.

The decrease in thefts will be an immediate result of the sharp plunge in the drug’s price, and will also be enormous. The nation’s crime-problem will plunge.

The plunge in the need for police, and judges, and prison cells, and so forth – which currently are needed to carry out our sick narcotics policies – will free-up government to actually solve problems, instead of to produce problems (as it’s doing at present on the narcotics-issue).

In terms of governmental expense for these new services, it will be far less than the governmental expense for the stupid services (anti-narcotics cops etc.) that now are necessary in order to implement the existing sick narcotics policies.

No drug should be illegal. Every drug should be regulated, on the basis of the latest scientific findings. The main addictive drugs that are available over-the-counter are alcohol and nicotine, and the age-limits that apply to them could be applied to all; but those are mere details to be considered within the new framework. What’s important is that the punitive approach against addicts is the cause of the drug-crime problem, because it produces the thefts, and it produces the drug-overdoses, and it produces the entirely needless misery (including family break-ups) that’s currently associated with the resulting black market.

The way to end a black market for an addictive product is to legalize and regulate that market in the way that is best for the entire society – instead of for the drug-kingpins.

Switzerland, UK, and a few other countries, have prescription-based narcotics distribution systems, which have stabilized the number of addicts at remarkably low levels, but, because prescription-based distribution is costlier than over-the-counter, a black market narcotics-distribution network has existed alongside it. Whether that type of legalization is superior to what’s being proposed here is not known. The system that’s proposed here is more like the distribution of liquor and cigarettes than like prescription-based systems. This proposed type of system, virtually eliminates a black market in an addictive drug. It’s also the least coercive system. (For examples: the distributions of liquor and of cigarettes aren’t at all coercive.) It also reduces entirely the problem of stigmatizing addicts or otherwise segregating them by law from other people.

In some ways, the closest thing to what’s advocated here, that’s been in place long enough to have produced any significant results, is the ‘legalization’ of all drugs in Portugal starting in 2001. Wikipedia summarizes it: “The new law maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. However, the offense was changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the amount possessed was no more than ten days’ supply of that substance.” Here’s a 2015 report on that. On 27 March 2013, Germany’s Spiegel headlined, “Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs,” and reported that though the Portuguese economy is generally not in good shape, Portugal has experienced less of the rise in drug-use than most other EU countries have.

However, all of those articles and studies have ignored the effect the change has had on crimes: thefts, etc. – the rate of real crimes. In other words: the academic and news coverage of the results has ignored the main problem. It’s blind; it is not at all scientific, because the priorities that guide it are wacky. In any scientific benefit/cost analysis, the priorities are centrally important; and the discussion of alternative narcotics-distribution systems has had wacky priorities.

Typical is this: An 80-page study of the heroin problem in Switzerland, commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, and reported in 2009, was titled “Assessing Drug Problems and Policies in Switzerland, 1998-2007.” It noted: “Though drug related crime and disorder are among the principal consequences of illegal drugs that concerns the public, there are no systematic data available, either in Switzerland or any other nation.” These data – the most crucial category of data of all: drug-related robberies, burglaries, and larcenies – aren’t even being tabulated, much less correlated with their perpetrator’s possible narcotics-addiction. Because of that, the 80-page Swiss Federal study ignored the entire issue of what, if any, such correlations exist between such addiction and thefts.

We’re wasting too much on sheer stupidity. The sickness of stupidity has produced – and has supported – a lot of entirely unnecessary problems. It needs to be cured, by intelligence, at the governmental level, even if not at the private and personal level (such as the addicts themselves). Because, we’re all paying way too much, for that governmental stupidity.

The proposal here is not conservative. The existing stupidity is conservative – that’s what we’ve long had, and what we’re all accustomed to; it is, itself, like an addiction, to the past. And, like any addiction, it is a disease. A disease needs to be cured, not to be handled as if it’s ‘the way things ought to be.’ Things ought not to be this way. Stupidity is not the correct way; it’s the wrong way – no matter how much that way is taken for granted on a given topic.

A brilliant college-senior, identified only as “Alex,” at William and Mary College, has posted to the internet the main portions of a research-project he was doing into narcotics policies around the world and their respective effects. It’s here. The gist of his findings is the following, from an “Update #1”:

My project focuses heavily on how much world governments spend and how that can be related to their choices of policy and the degree of severity that their laws contain for those who choose to participate in the black market for and consumption of illicit substances. A recent review of the LSE report on the Economics of Drug policy that had contributions and signatures from several Nobel prize-winning economists declared the importance of new research in this field. John Collins, A PhD candidate at the London School of Economics had this to say:

“A more thorough cost-benefit analysis of the merits of prohibition relative to the costs of enforcement which takes into account the cross-border spillovers [of the war on drugs] is required for a global cooperative framework. From this analysis a better appreciation of regulatory options and potential for experimentation and the readjustment of resources can be decided.”

If we wait the decades that will be required in order to validate the obvious logic of the analysis and proposal that the present article has summarized, then trillions of dollars of economic productivity will have been simply squandered during the meantime. The basic drug-related-crime data don’t even yet exist, to start being tabulated, so that the first findings and correlations from it can become available perhaps ten years afterwards. Far more sensible will be for the United States, or else some other country, to switch as soon as possible to the policy that’s been outlined here. That one country will then serve as a model for the entire world, and the model can then become improved and perfected during subsequent decades. However, the results of the change will start exhibiting themselves very quickly: as soon as addicts no longer will be buying drugs at black-market street prices but instead at what the prices would be as over-the-counter medications (and at standardized levels of potency and other regulatory means of reducing drug-related deaths), the black market will just collapse, and the robberies and breaks-ins will collapse along with it. That’s the most important thing, and it will happen almost immediately.

Some country will introduce this policy. Which will it be, and when will it be? One thing is certain, even if – as in some cases – the use of narcotics doesn’t go down: the crime-rate will plunge, if the country has any substantial amount of thefts. The real policy-focus concerning narcotics must be on that, not on the percentage of people who are using any particular drug. And yet, the real policy-focus has instead always been on the latter. That’s been plain stupid. There is no justification for it to continue. And there is no justification for the existing system to continue, either. But, how likely is it that policymakers, who have continued the existing narcotics-policy for as long as they have, will suddenly become smart in what they’re doing? Policymakers are more conservative than they are intelligent.

The alternative to saying that policymakers are stupid is to say that they don’t much care about reducing thefts. Of course, that’s a possibility, too, but it doesn’t place policymakers into any more-favorable a light.

The only way that policymakers can recover from their abysmal performance to-date, is for them to initiate this policy-transformation ASAP, and for them to do it with ceaseless focus until the policy-change is instituted and functioning well. The only recovery from decades and centuries of failure is that. It’s what the public should expect, and demand. They should demand it of their politicians, and no longer accept excuses.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.