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1.8. Decriminalization Is Not Enough PDF Print E-mail
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Grey Literature - DPF: The Great Issues of Drug Policy 1990
Written by Horst Senger   

The growing debate over decriminalizing drugs is an encouraging trend towards a sane drug policy. It is the only way now to transform a national disaster into a national problem. But decriminalizing drugs will not achieve this transformation unless we also take all profit out of drug production and trade. Decriminalizers by and large want to exchange prohibition for a free market. They want to profit from the taxes drug trade could generate. They hope, and likely with good reason, that the violence, associated with unenforceable prohibition, will stop. The model for these propositions is our history with alcohol prohibition. A fundamental assumption underlying this drug policy is the inevitability of a demand for drugs and the impossibility to stop their easy availability.

Decriminalization Must Be Accompanied by Education

It is here proposed that decriminalizing of drugs must be followed by their free availability to those adults physically addicted, and to those willing to abide by controls necessary for the safety and security of the larger community, including drug testing. Free availability Must also be accompanied by a near universal realistic education about the effects of drugs and the controls necessary on using them. This may be modeled on our driver education practices. Such education must start early in school and be renewed periodically as are driver examinations. Trade in drugs, if any will remain after a free-drugs policy has had time to make its effects felt on what is now referred to as the drug traffickers, must remain outlawed, perhaps with a policy which only punishes sellers.

These policies are proposed here because decriminalization of drugs followed by commercialization will not lessen our violence associated with our current prohibition policies. It will halt the drive to a state of police terrorism which in turn would inevitably lead to the kind of anarchy now associated with some so called third world nations.

The history of prohibition supports these assumptions, the crime and violence did end largely. But the alcohol problem remains with us. The reason for this is the large market for alcohol. But it would be wrong to ascribe this market solely to the demand for it. Yet there is a strange unanimity of belief in the demand for drugs as the creator of our drug problem. Prohibitionists proclaim the user as the real culprit responsible for all the troubles caused by drugs. Decriminalizers proclaim their belief that our problems would go away if the government would let the user buy what he wants to buy.

Such beliefs are at odds with the realities of a nation where the creation of markets has been developed to an unrivaled perfection, and where the process of this creation can be observed — or better, where no one can miss facing the process at any moment everywhere. Those reasons most often given for using drugs, by prohibitionists and decriminalizers, are the results of this market, they did not create it. Curiously enough both sides agree on the desire for profits, and the ease to obtain them in enormous amounts. But equally curious, neither side faces the fact that profits can only be eliminated if a product is free. The prohibitionists wish to eliminate profit by making it ever more difficult to obtain. So far this tactic has spectacularly failed. No plan now envisioned promises any success. The decriminalizers by and large want to have a free market, but this would inevitably allow and even mandate profits, even if possibly lower than currently. On balance this is a more desirable solution than continuing prohibition, the spectacular failure of which has brought us to a cycle of violence where communities are now becoming even more endangered from violence by drug traders, but eventually they will be most endangered by state violence exercised in the name of fighting drugs.

Prohibitionists vs. Decriminalizers

Prohibitionists cite health, pleasure-induced asocial behavior (with drug-addicted babies being perhaps the most extreme manifestation) crime, immorality, endangerment of others (at work, etc) and, of course, illegality. Decriminalizers cite the wrongness of government to control what people ingest, government's inability to exert such control meaningfully, the dangers of such controls for the continuation of civil society, the enlarging of the spheres of action beyond our borders and laws and the many benefits which would follow decriminalization by reversing current trends. Both sides agree there will always be some drug users. i.e. we can never have a drug-free society, but prohibitionists predict large increases in drug use following decriminalization. Decriminalizers respond with noting that as of now, and very likely with continuing prohibition anyone can obtain all the drugs wanted already, i.e. there will likely be no larger demand following decriminalization. They add that with proper education demand will most surely shrink considerably in time. Prohibitionists doubt success of education programs because too few who need it will either apply for it or stay with it long enough. It is agreed by all that minors must be kept from using drugs.

This is not a full list of reasoning by the two sides on how to reverse our drug problem. But it gives an idea of the two major opposing currents of thinking. One should note that all the issues involved are after-the-fact issues, they arise after drugs have been used (or traded). Yet, the drug problem is a two-part problem. The before-use problems differ significantly from the after-use problems. Very different measures and policies must be used to deal with each. Just as with diseases, prevention and cure usually involve very different responses. Yet when it comes to the drug problem, the heated rhetoric and most official actions, deal with the after-use situation. The two aspects are rarely separated. Both sides in the drug policy debate declare before-use, meaning deterrence and prevention, to be the top priority. The prohibitionists want to do this by ever more law and ever more enforcement. Failure of these policies makes them only determined to try ever harder

The decriminalizers wish to prevent and deter through education; the free market is seen as a means, first of all to end the excessive violence and crime endemic to prohibition and secondly to produce revenue for the educational effort. Success or failure of such effort cannot be divined since we still live with prohibition. Following our experience with alcohol prohibition and the free market since its demise we now know that, while violent crime abated, our alcohol problem is immense. This may very well be what an end of drug prohibition, followed by a free market, will bring about. If, as is the case now, marijuana will remain the drug of choice by the majority of users, the problem could be minor compared to our alcohol problem. But no one can foresee whether a free drug market and the subsequent search for profits will alter the selection by users. Traders will attempt to increase profits, not only by creating customers, but by steering them to the most profitable drugs. The intrinsic pleasure of drugs would augment advertising, or void the effects of any ban to do so. New inventions (as crack was but recently) are sure to revolutionize any market. We cannot foretell with what results. If the history of marketing is any indication, producers of pleasure-giving foods try to constantly increase their attractiveness by increasing their potency.

Economics and Decriminalization

It must now be clear decriminalizing drugs and letting the market decide their use will be no answer to our drug and crime problems. There is a better solution. It is based on a theory of economics known now for almost two centuries and practiced in our nation with great fervor for almost as long. This theory has been stated most succinctly by Jean Baptiste Say. Nothing should be more obvious in the nation which developed and uses advertising as we do. In his treatise on political economy.1 Say tells us that it is production which creates demand. This he qualifies by adding that products give rise to demand in various degrees, influenced by wants, by their desirability and their profitability. Realized demand becomes income to producers, who will then transform it into demand for more goods to be produced. This has usually been interpreted to describe economic stability, subject to occasional but not serious interruptions.2 Until the Great Depression this assumption, Say's Law, was the fundament of capitalist economic theory. Marx did object by pointing out that production as well as demand could, and would be manipulated in a manner which is bound to produce periodic crises.3 It was only with the Great Depression and Keynes efforts to explain and overcome its grave effects,4 that economists consigned Say's Law to oblivion.5 Long before that world-wide economic calamity, economics has been called the dismal science6 because of the trend predicted by Malthus and his successors who believed that population would always outrun production and thus there would never be enough of whatever we produce.

We can recognize now that there are here two valid findings where the discoverers have been unaware of what they really found a situation not unlike that we know about from Columbus. Economics is indeed a dismal science, but not because of any immutable law, rather because economists have been unable to explain its processes, correct its problems or predict its future. In this economics and economists are not unlike criminology and criminologists. The problem is of course that both fields of study deal very greatly with human will as influenced by culture. As such both subjects have so far eluded the kind of scientific insight and study so successful in dealing with the physical universe.

Say's Law failed as an explanation of and guide because he, and his followers as well as his critics assumed it to be an ultimate, single and all-encompassing law which would explain everything. This is a mistake not unknown in criminology. If we scale the scope of relevance from macro- to micro-economics, from political to everyday economy, then we will find a very good fit between Say's Law and what we can observe around us. One needs only open a newspaper, watch television or listen to the radio to see the immense constant and inescapable effort by producers to find or create a market for them. That social conditions transform any products from subjects of wants into needs does not alter the basic fact of a goods-created market. Nor does it matter that nearly all produced goods cater to some inborn human need or desire. After all the inborn potential for language/expression does not determine which language will be used, nor how well. We can see around us the vast efforts by producers and traders to arouse and intensify wants and desires. Recent European history gives us a perfect illustration how lack of profits led to a lack of production (except where power of the state could force production). Industrial/commercial production does no happen because of altruism. Production occurs when demand assures a profit. While demand can be manipulated, some goods possess intrinsic satisfaction, such as cater to inborn potential for pleasure. Here is little need to create want though no producer will ignore the profits obtainable with effective stimulation of demand. Our culture gives us ample means. Except for an inborn desire and the inborn potential to satisfy it, such as is sex, wants satisfied by produced good are potentially dormant or even non-existent. After all there is no "natural" desire for videos, or automobiles. As the search for pleasure has been recognized as a prime motivation for human behavior, the existence of substances that can supply pleasure is one of the facts of nature we must live with. That human ingenuity can enhance this pleasure factor is no different than that it can design ever faster transportation, or tools of greater destructiveness. But all of this is produced for an expected profit.

If we then have a product of immense intrinsic desirability, easy to produce, transport and trade, if social circumstances contribute directly or indirectly to increase desirability, we are certain to have exactly the situation now prevailing in the nation with regard to the mind-affecting, pleasure-giving drugs. Since all these circumstances combine to assure vast profits, these drugs will be produced and producers will seek and create constantly more buyers, i.e. a market. To reduce this drug market requires primarily the elimination of profits, for the demand for drug-pleasure is not a natural/normal one. Current efforts by the officials in charge of our drug war stress demand reduction and use the infliction of ever more harm, not only on the direct demanders, but increasingly on the whole of society by ever more intrusive and pervasive processes. The result has been not merely a failure, but a disaster of social destructiveness. Our drug warriors have recognized a role for profits. For reasons of their own they pursue nevertheless the demand as the major problem. Demand reduction is presented as profit reduction by predicting that less customers mean less profits. This has not been the case despite occasional news of economic declines in the drug use/trade continuum. The reason is quite clear. The innate desire for pleasure, the intensity of drug-produced pleasure, the inability to control production, trade or use significantly ensures vast and easy profits to anyone who can deliver. We cannot eliminate the desire for pleasure, on the contrary pleasure, is constantly stressed as highly desirable. Clearly, we must examine seriously if we can succeed in eliminating profits as our main goal. Our hope lies in the fact, that unlike the pleasures of sex, drug-originated pleasures are not behaviorally originating in the individual, but are like the pleasures of arts, either learned or simply implemented through human ingenuity in finding means to use innate potential.

Though drugs give pleasure (including reduction of pain, mental or physical), they are used largely because they are available. They are only available because they are produced. They are only produced because they bring profit. No goods are going to be produced if they can be obtained free. Here we can see Say's Law in action.

So, we must make drugs freely available to adult who wish to use them. Production for profit will soon completely cease. Given the desire for drug supplied pleasure as it has evolved through our past policies, such free availability must be paralleled by a demand reduction which includes necessary but civil control over users whose drug-affected behavior may harm others. It must be prepared by an educational effort which gives the facts about what drugs do to the human body and mind. Such education must not only be as universal and pervasive as is driver education but equally compulsory and periodically repetitive. It must be facilitated by institutions which serve the use of drugs so as to minimize harm, coercion beyond the necessary and not the least, stigma must be absent from these processes. Harming crime must be prosecuted without allowing drug use as an excuse of any kind.

Free drug availability now will not suddenly change a situation which took at least a century to develop. It may even continue the momentum of ever greater drug use for a short time. But the decline of production will soon see the end of that most prolific of drug-problems producer: the pusher. His business will have been terminated. With his demise drug availability in uncontrolled situations will practically end.

In support of the trend we must continue to prohibit and penalize drug trade, best by penalizing sellers but not buyers. We must continue to keep drugs away from youth. This task will be vastly easier after the demise of the pusher, for much youthful drug use is not demand-cause at all, but pusher-induced, a fact recognized in the very term. Considering that much adult drug use has its source in youthful experiences, the program here outlined seems to be the most effective drug control policy for our American drug problem. It must be added that there are social problems which pervade our society and which tend to foster thinking and behavior that can very well include the wish to forget the unpleasant realities of life. To alleviate these problems is surely a major ingredient in any policy to control the want, the need and the use of mind affecting substances regardless of their legal status.

Footnotes

1 Readings in Economics, Kapp, ed. Barnes & Noble 1949 p. 180

2 Ideas of the Great Economists, G. Soule Mentor 1955 p. 49

3 Political Economy, J. Eaton International Publisher 1949 p.115ff. Karl Marx's Interpretation of History, M.M. Bober Harvard 1948 p.233ff

4 Marx Against Keynes, J. Eaton Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. 1951. p. 30ff

5 Economics and the Public Purpose, J.K. Galbraith. New Am. Leb. 1975. p. 20ff. The Worldly Philosophers. Heilbronner. Simon & Schuster 1980. p. 97ff

6 Dictionary of Economics, Barnes & Noble 1968 Item: Dismal...

 

Our valuable member Horst Senger has been with us since Monday, 20 February 2012.

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