I served for a number of years in the Marine Corps and had the opportunity to actually ‘fight’ the war on drugs. I located labs, reported on movements of traffickers and products, and sometimes assisted in the destruction of labs and fields. Can I call this a success? Well, yes, it did stop organizations from profiting for a time but it is like taking care of a symptom. The disease is not production its what created the product and that is American demand.
Fact is that one can never truly stop the supply of anything that has value. The more successful the efforts of DEA, USCG, Customs, and a host of other agencies the higher the price of drugs goes which means some kid starving in Central or South America will risk it all to make truly big money. If a kilogram is worth say 100,000$ dollars when 100 kilos hit the street a day what happens to the price when enforcement and interdiction drops it to 50 kilos a day? OPEC taught us all that lesson in 1973. Supply and Demand is the key.
So why go after suppliers? Well, think about American culture. We dumped tea in a harbor and then smuggled it in to avoid taxes. We ran Union blockades of Southern ports to try and supply the Confederacy. We went to speak-easys to thumb our collective noses at prohibition. We turned up Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis when government and society told us not to. Point is Americans don’t like being told no when we are sure we want it, besides what right does government or anyone have stopping us? Think about the thrill of drinking when you are under 21. It loses that zest once we are ‘legal’ to drink in most cases. Truly, real efforts at reducing demand are considered contrary to the American ideal of freedom of action that is nowhere in the Bill of Rights but imprinted on the psyche of our nation.
In addition think about how popular media portrays users and dealers. Often they are minorities in crappy neighborhoods. No one thinks about facts that most consumption is centered in clean cut, affluent suburbs near major cities. Most Americans applaud a big bust when it nabs gang-bangers of the inner city. How often do we see a clean cut middle class kid in such a situation. I taught High School on the south side of Chicago and learned first-hand how drugs are distributed at the retail end. My students knew it was a dangerous career to undertake but what option did many of these kids have? Work my butt off at a McDonald’s and make about 300$ a week or stand on the corner and make 300$ an hour? Did I fault my kids? Yes and no. Yes, it all comes down to a choice and by the age of 12 you know right from wrong in most situations. No, if siblings and myself are starving, sick, and abandoned its a choice that seems reasonable.
One comment my kids would make gave me pause until I thought it through. “Mr. J, White kids never get busted for drugs, its a race thing.” Well as I explained to my kids, you are right but its economics and not racism. See, if one of my students is busted on 75th street he or she goes to central booking, then if a juvenile they go to county, spend a night or two, get formally charged and from there its assignment to a Public Defender who in most cases is a lawyer either working pro-bono or has a case load that looks like a stack of papers I grade. Do these kids get a vigorous defense as law schools across America call for? No, often its a matter of plead to a lesser offense, probation, and now the kid is in the system. Okay now instead of Chicago lets take a look at 75th street in affluent Naperville. Kid is busted. Before they are even cuffed they are on the cell crying for Mommie or Daddy to lawyer up. Okay ride to processing. If you don’t think there’s a difference trust me there is. Area 6’s processing area stank of urine, resonated with crying and shouting, kids were crammed in to large holding areas with general population, and was as cold as a well digger’s butt. Naperville’s is carpeted, smells nice, and isolated so that juveniles don’t come into contact with dangerous criminals. Now, in most cases Mom, Dad, and Lawyer beat the Police there. They sit there sipping coffee and give little johnny venomous looks while arresting officers do paper work. Procedures are air tight because in Naperville actions of the force are closely scrutinized. Next interrogation with kid, Mom, Dad, and lawyer. End result? About 87% (source: Illinois State’s Attorney Statistics) of the time drug rehab, no probation, no community service, no ankle bracelet house arrest, a sealed record or one that is expunged upon the defendant’s majority. Do I fault anyone? Not really, why earn all that money if you can’t use it to protect your child even when they do something tragically stupid. Is justice served? Well, O.J.’s circus of a trial proved that law is not black and white its gray. How does this relate to the problem? If the largest consumers are also the ones who can more easily avoid consequences of use the problem will continue.
In short drugs like anything we attempt to control, regulate, or prevent will continue. Even if the focus shifted from supply to demand and we became tougher on users which is a long shot. Face it, if the same parents pay for a lawyer they also make campaign contributions so no policy-maker in their right mind is going to make it tougher on constituent’s kids. In any case even reductions of demand would only slow down the problem. Trafficking in illegal substances and products has been around as long as commerce.
Education is the key to any meaningful success. I have a DARE Officer at my school who goes in and uses the handouts, worksheets, and ‘approved’ material to teach students about the dangers of drugs. Does it work? Again, yes and no. Yes, most kids who have parents that don’t use and speak against it usually stay away from drugs altogether or experiment and then quit. No, the DARE program has been hampered by conservative agendas that don’t want to get too graphic or scary. This is frustrating. We dilute down drug avoidance education and then buy kids violent video games, allow them to watch sexually inappropriate material.
Case in point, some of my students in Naperville offered up the ‘its a victimless crime’ load of crap. Fact is this business runs on the blood of innocents. One village was slaughtered by mercenaries working for a cartel member. What was their crime? No crime, a patrol of Marines using chemical warfare sensors tuned to pick up acetate and other by-products of drug production guided them to a lab near a local mission church. Honduran authorities were notified and went in to destroy the lab. Problem was a local drug lord was sure someone had seen it and reported it. Solution make an example of 78, men, women, and children. It worked, surrounding village leaders begged us to avoid even walking near their towns. Shocked stares of students spoke volumes to an ugly reality of the drug trade deemed too graphic for middle or high school level students. Or a reprimand received when I explained to one student that part of the process of making cocaine involves putting crushed leaves in a lined pit and having everyone urinate in it. See uric acid helps break down pulp speeding up production. Finally, reality that drug runners are entrepreneurs. The very same pipelines used to move drugs into the United States are also effective methods of transporting in guns, terrorist, and money. Imagine the looks on young faces when I reported to them some of the 9/11 conspirators made it into the U.S. by riding along with drugs meant for New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. I pray it gave some of those users pause.
Now, some may call for legalization citing Prohibition as a perfect historical example. Well, good luck with that. Understand the cartel’s are making way too much money to let that happen. Legalization would destroy their profit margin. This multi-billion dollar a year industry can buy judges, police, and politicians. Bottom line don’t hold your breath.
Consider the logical point; legalization will only trade one problem for another. First, think about America’s terrible track record of dealing with drinking and driving. When a drunk kills people its on average their fourth or fifth DUI / DWI (source: NTSB) Another problem is it would not eliminate the smuggling. Legalization of alcohol came with regulation. Beer, hard liquor, wine, and other beverages were monitored for quality, safety, and content of alcohol by volume. Did the end of prohibition doom moonshiners? Nope, they found a niche market. Why buy a case of 7.0% by volume beer when I can get a jug of 40.0%? Sure I am running the risk of blindness but that just adds to the thrill of ‘getting away with it.’ Legalize cocaine and it will wipe out the small guys but major producers will profit by providing ‘unregulated’ drugs. Again, why buy the legalized stuff? It takes 4 lines to really get me stoned on this stuff, while this Columbian stuff only takes one line.
One Brother Marine offered this wisdom, “let them do all the drugs they want, maybe for once stupid will be fatal.” True but I reminded him of the innocents in danger while the stupids got around to killing themselves. No solution exists in a vacuum. Their is always going to be a supply as long as someone demands what government and society says they should not have. Boston’s Son’s of Liberty had no trouble dumping tea knowing they were smuggling it in at a profit. Our forebears viewed smuggling as a necessary yet, profitable evil. Whether cocaine, pot, cigarettes, caviar, or Cuban cigars as long as some demand it others will take the risk to supply it.