Sunday, October 18, 2015

the drug war drives violence and is a perfect example of the breakdown of the rule of law

WaPo |  Americans from all racial groups pursue narcotic-related leisure activities, spending an estimated $100 billion a year on their illegal drugs, according to a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In this current period of fairly active military engagement, the nation’s defense budget is roughly $600 billion. In other words, our culture of illegal drug use must be pretty important to amount to a full sixth of our budget for national defense. 

Yet despite this evidence of far-reaching social acceptance of illegal drug use, we continue to lock up nonviolent offenders. Ceasing this hypocritical practice by releasing nonviolent offenders is morally urgent. Yet this would be only a small step toward rectification of the problem of mass incarceration. As the Web site FiveThirtyEight recently reported, such a move would reduce our state and federal prison populations by only about 14 percent. We would still be the world’s leading imprisoner.

The further-reaching reason to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs flows from how the war on drugs drives violent crime, which in turn pushes up incarceration and generates other negative social outcomes. You just can’t move $100 billion worth of illegal product without a lot of assault and homicide. This should not be a hard point to see or make. Criminologists and law enforcement personnel alike acknowledge that the most common examples of “criminogenic trends” that generate increases in murder and other violent crimes are gang- and drug-related homicides. 

But there is also another, more subtle connection between the drug war and violence, pinpointed by economists Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi . As they argue, above-average homicide rates will result from low rates of successful investigation and prosecution of homicide cases. If you live in an environment where you know that someone can shoot you with impunity, you are much more likely to be ready to shoot to kill at the first sign of danger. When murder goes unpunished, it begets more murder, partly for purposes of retaliation, partly because people are emboldened by lawlessness, but also as a matter of preemption. Unpunished murder makes everyone (including police) trigger-happy. Such places operate according to the dictum that the best defense is a strong offense.