Hypothesis: The War on Drugs is not a failure, it is a roaring success. (Nov 5, 1998)
Let's pipe-dream, for a moment, about what this country would be like if there were no War On Drugs, if drugs were as legal as Winston or Jim Beam or Hustler.
For one thing, drugs would be sold not in dark alleys, but at the Texaco station or Walgreen's.  They would be branded so you could quickly tell what quality you were getting and whether it was worth the price; the brands would be Liggett&Myers and Squibb, among others.  You would be able to buy ...pretty cheaply... all but the really gruesome stuff.  If you had a 'habit' you would be able to satisfy it without the gruesome stuff anyway, so that wouldn't be much of an imposition.  If you felt you really needed heavy drugs you could get them, but you'd have to go downtown.  Those drugs would be 'branded' too, but with names like 'Black Cat'; no Squibb here, no Roche, no Warner-Lambert.
Nobody (absolutely nobody) will sell to you while you're high, just as today no bartender will serve you when you're intoxicated.  Drugs will be almost universally a take-home operation.  The rare on-premises drug-lounge will carefully monitor how much you've had, and will call a cab to get you home; you're no good to them dead, and they don't want to talk to your attorney.
A good chunk of research would be aimed at designer drugs whose side-effects are minimal: "New X-D-Z: no hangover, no habit, guaranteed.  Double your money back if you don't agree..."
This doesn't sound all that terribly bad.  What, I wonder, are we so afraid of?
Newt Gingrich once promised an all-out War on Drugs to make the then-current WoD look like 'practice'.  The Clinton administration sent nearly half a million people to Federal prisons, most of them minorities.  The Bush administration is promising to make Clinton look like a piker.  Oh, goodie!
Along with doing lethal damage to our basic freedoms from search and seizure, and effective emasculation of Habeas Corpus, the current WoD has seen the homicide rate among Black and Hispanic males rise to almost incomprehensible levels, some of it almost certainly fallout from the upward price-pressure the WoD has exerted on the drug-buying community.  An expansion of the WoD such as Gingrich proposed may well put Black and Hispanic adolescent males on the Endangered Species List...  if they aren't there already.  Couple this with the deuces-and-threes hand much of this community gets dealt simply by virtue of their address, and things don't look very bright.  It's an invitation to despair.  It's an invitation to violence.  It's an invitation to revolution.
We are stumbling toward a future in which automation will handle many tasks which today require a human.  The tasks are what we sneeringly call 'low-skill', and the humans who perform them are, almost without exception, those whose skills are inadequate for more demanding tasks.  What shall we do with these humans when there is no work that they can productively do?
That's not the end of the problem.  As time goes on, more and more tasks are shaved off the bottom of the skill hierarchy and given over to automation.  Eventually, we could live in a world where Jean-Luc Picard can demand of his wall-unit "Earl Grey tea, hot" and get it.  What then?  And what will happen along the way?  Clearly, this is a world where vast populations are not simply unneccessary, but detrimental to the public good.
If you're a government planner, you may see a need to reduce the population drastically.  But which segment of the population?  Fortunately, the population which needs to be reduced is easy to identify: they're poor.  They're poor because their labor is only marginally more valuable than a machine's.  Or it's less valuable and they're unemployed.  They're living Ned Ludd's nightmare.
How do you go about the task of reducing this population?
...or would it?  Suppose we could get the homicide rate among 'the poor' up substantially?  Suppose we could get the homicide rate up substantially among their young?  Suppose we could 'make believe' we're working diligently to solve the problem of 'escalating urban violence' so that we maintain public support while we let the problem solve itself?  Let's see...  a poor population...  susceptible to a 'get rich quick' mentality...  we could Outlaw Drugs...  drive the street price up artificially...  make some of them rich, yes, but it neutralizes the bulk, and greed will provide enough incentive to kill a good portion...  we can always trim the herd by imprisoning enough dealers to keep the traffic humming...  stiff sentences will show the public how serious we are about The Drug Problem.
This idea could work...
"It is essential that we understand that by choosing [drug] prohibition we are choosing to have an intense crime problem concentrated among minorities...  Clearly federal drug policy is responsible for a degree of social regression for which there does not appear to be any equivalent in our history."
-- Sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan
America Scholar, Summer 1993 p.362
Is the War on Drugs a failure?  Or is it a success?
© Frank Clarke, 2001
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