Sunday, August 11, 2013

Time to End the Drug War, People are Coming Around

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical expert, just made a 180 degree turn around and now supports medical marijuana. Click the link to see why. That got me thinking.

One of the monumental failures of government policy is America's War on Drugs. It has imprisoned vast numbers of Americans, made criminals of almost everyone, spent enormous amounts of money, and illegal drugs are readily available to anyone, anywhere in the US (including prisons) at quite reasonable prices. There is another, much better, way to control drug use. See How to Actually Win the War on Drugs for details.

The War on Drugs has a racist result described in a very interesting book called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. To understand the extremely well documented argument you need to know one fact: drug use among African Americans is about the same as among whites but arrest and conviction rates for drug crimes are much, much higher for African Americans. This is how blacks are, albeit imperfectly, kept down. Here's how it works:

  1. Drug enforcement is focused primarily on black communities, particularly young men, because 'everyone knows' that black men commit the most crimes.
  2. Since everyone does drugs at about the same rate, enforcement focus leads to much higher arrest rates for blacks, particularly young men.
  3. District attorneys have great discretion in how vigorously they prosecute, and black men get a lot more vigorous prosecution, in part because 'everyone knows' that black men commit a lot of crimes.
  4. The end result is a large fraction of young black men in prison, on parol, or with felony drug convictions which makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to get a job.
  5. Joblessness is correlated with violent crime rates. In fact, the higher violent crime rates of black men is entirely explained by the higher jobless figures.
  6. Since black men have a higher crime rate, drug enforcement is focussed on black communities ... see #1.
Note that the cost of imprisoning someone for a year is about the same as attending the University of California. Which will make a better citizen, and bigger tax payer, out of a high school kid smoking a bit of reefer?

NOTE: you can make a similar argument about brown people, but I left that out for simplicity.

One way to break this vicious cycle is to get rid of the drug war, which doesn't work anyway. Let's do it!