ON THE WAR AGAINST DRUGS
In the spirit of the times, for whatever it is worth, I am re-publishing a couple of posts about the war against drugs, the first from a year ago, the second, from eight.
The case of Maryjane Veloso, the Filipina convicted of drug offense whose execution in Indonesia was temporarily stayed, once more calls attention to the wisdom— or lack of it— of the war against drugs. Maryjane is really just one among the so-many casualties of this war. Indeed, how many thousands have been executed or sentenced to a lifetime in jail since the war started? How much public funds have since been poured into the effort? Yet, illegal drugs trade has steadily flourished over time into a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and is growing more robustly than ever. This alone should compel us to rethink our approach and strategy.
Society, no doubt driven by noble motives, takes it to itself the responsibility to shield its citizens from the menace of drugs. Thus it legislates laws in various degrees of severity in the fulfillment of this assumed responsibility.
The drug user though does not share such society’s concern; he rebels against it. To him, it is simply his right, he exercising his own free will to satisfy his own cravings. It is not for society to decide what pleasures he must indulge in or not. At times, he must be perplexed: what’s the big deal? what wrong is there in his using drugs? He enjoys the highs and the mind-bending effect it has on himself, why deny it to him? It is not like he is causing any damage on anyone or anybody’s property that if caught he must be shot to death or be placed in prison for the rest of his life. If there be any harm, it is only on himself, but then that is his personal business. A lot much like smoking or drinking or skydiving… Absent any moral restraint or bother, there being no inherent evil in his vice, he continues to seek the fulfillment of his desires, plays cat and mouse with the police if need be, and pays the price no matter how high— and to hell with the Government playing Big Brother on his life.
Now, where there is a buyer, at the right price, there is always a seller, count on it. To the seller, it is simply business, no more no less. The merchandise to him is just that, a thing to sell for profit. Does a businessman care if his rope is intended for suicide? Or the knife to kill? Yet even in case he does and shifts to other wares to sell, trust that someone will emerge from out of nowhere to take his place to supply the buyer the merchandise, if under the most forbidding circumstances, at the right price.
The thing is, prohibition accomplishes two things: one. it limits general access of the public to the drug, but, two, it also jacks up the price of the merchandise. The first is the intended result, the second the unintended. From the original unintended consequence emerges a chain of undesirable spin-offs. As prohibition jacks up the price of the product, at times astronomically, peddling drugs becomes an extremely lucrative business. It’s the Law of Supply and Demand, nothing more. And because it is illegal, the criminal types naturally get to take full charge. The kind to whom you would otherwise deny access to riches for the evil that they are, inevitably they get to take control of a business that rakes in cash in overflowing abundance. What happens when criminal minds have billions at their disposal? Of course, limitless power to buy or force their way in and out of every nook and cranny of society. To what extent do they now have control of our society, we could only speculate. But if the occasional cocky display of power and hints of incipient influence be any guide, we could only shudder.
Indeed, it is a difficult dilemma but we must make a choice. Protecting society from the evils of drugs appears to have spawned a greater monster.
For alcohol prohibition, our US version, it was about 13 years. Between mafia crime, poisonings from adulterated beverages, and the dropping age at which people were becoming alcoholics, Americans decided that the “Noble Experiment” — whether it should actually be regarded as noble or not — was a bad idea. And they ended it. New York State did its part 75 years ago today, ratifying the 21st amendment to repeal the 18th amendment, bringing the Constitution one state closer to being restored. It took another half a year, until December 5th, to get the 36 states on the board that were needed at the time to get the job done. But Americans of the ’30s recognized the failure of the prohibition experiment, and they took action by enacting legalization of alcohol. Industrialist John D. Rockefeller described the evolution of his thinking that led to the recognition of prohibition’s failure, in a famous 1932 letter:
“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”
The “experiment” with drugs, it appears anywhere you look, is headed for the same devastating failure. In the United States, the trend is going opposite the intended direction: addiction is worsening and the industry is flourishing. This despite the billions of dollars poured into the effort, not to mention thousand deaths and executions littering the path. And surprisingly, figures show higher percentage of users in countries where draconian measures are on employ, like the US.
To be clear, the above article comes from a pro-drugs site likely maintained by drug addicts. Yet, while the idea is unpopular, its pitch for legalization makes sense. For ultimately, the economics of the market will force the issue. Prohibition does not and cannot eliminate the twin forces of supply and demand. That much is clear, notwithstanding the nobility of the mission to shield people from the perceived evils of drugs. It can for a time stand in the way but like water seeking its own level the forces of supply and demand eventually adjust to find their equilibrium. Basic economics, pure and simple. Price goes up sky high to reflect the deadly risks involved in the equation. Indeed, the business maxim that risk and profitability are in direct proportion to each other, is just as true here. Which means a more dogged enforcement coupled with laws made more severe would only jack up the price of drugs even more. With a margin of profit two-arm lengths wide, you have an extremely lucrative business opportunity in your midst openly luring all sorts of risk-takers from far and wide, from high and low, from every nook and cranny to cash in quickly real big time. And as it is prohibited by law, business go nowhere but underground, naturally— into the hands of shady characters that very well belong there, people whose reason for being is to kill and die for every piece of action. Over time, wealth overflowing in limitless abundance accumulates in the wrong territory. You have a fountainhead of great power in the hands of Darth Vader. That which has had a humble start paying off and threatening lowly cops, moving gradually up, eventually graduates into bankrolling a presidential campaign. Then they take decisive control of society, these shady characters and their troops of gangsters, with a president as their front.
Follow closely how the P4B shabu haul in Subic will eventually disappear from view. It is instructive. Law enforcement finds its limits where this is said: “take this fortune and get out of the way or you and all the people you love will perish”. Show me one who will dare cross the line and I will show you a fool.