Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Progressives Defend Drug Dealers

This article inadvertently or indirectly points out the limitations of “criminal justice reform” within the context of the current state-centric system. The problems that this writer is describing are not rooted in the claim that drug decriminalization has gone “too far.” The problem is that drug decriminalization has not gone far enough. Not nearly far enough. Serious drug decriminalization is not just a matter of not arresting drug users or tolerating open-air drug markets. Instead, it is necessary to legalize the entire illegal drug industry, from the point of production, distribution, sale, and consumption.

Even in the most reform-oriented jurisdictions in the US, drug legalization has not taken place (except for marijuana in some places). Rather, the production, distribution, and sale of most drugs remain illegal, which means that the production and distribution will be dominated by organized crime cartels, direct sales will be dominated by either gangs and routine crimes or ordinary folks engaged in black market entrepreneurship,  and that the purchase will take place either in open-air markets, “speakeasy” type places, or house to house sales. With genuine legalization/decriminalization, the possession of any drug for personal use would be legal. The production of drugs, along with the distribution and sale, would take place in ordinary agricultural, industrial, commercial, and retail environments.

One effect of drug prohibition is that the market for most drugs other than the hardest drugs is largely sealed off. That’s why fentanyl (which is easier to transport) is replacing heroin, and methamphetamine (which can be made in home labs and doesn’t require exotic plans from South America) is replacing cocaine as drugs of choice for traffickers. With serious drug legalization, there would be a market for smokable opium, chewable coca, opium and coca-based beverages, and a range of other drug products that are unheard of under the current system due to the effects of the prohibition system. People who use drugs would be using drugs, not in parks, alleys, and stairwells, but in bars, restaurants, clubs, and private gatherings, like they do now with alcoholic beverages.  There would still be drug addicts just like there are alcoholics, but most alcoholics are not street people who live in tents under a bridge and drink in the park. Homeless drug addicts would still exist as well, but that wouldn’t be the norm among drug addicts, and problems with serious addiction issues could be more effectively managed like they are with alcoholism. We don’t have open-air booze markets comparable to the open-air drug markets.

I don’t know whether there would be more or less people using drugs, or using hard drugs, with a system of full legalization (which no country currently comes close to even approximating). I don’t know whether there would be more or less drug overdoses. I frankly don’t care. My advice to someone who doesn’t want to overdose on drugs would be to refrain from taking drugs in the first place.  It may be that drug overdoses are just one of those unfortunate facts of life in modern societies with modern technology and commercial products (like car accidents) or part of the cost of having a free society (like gun violence).

By Michael Shellenberger

And how San Francisco and other cities can shut down open drug markets.

San Francisco’s District Attorney, Public Defender, and a member of the Board of Supervisors are attacking Mayor London Breed’s plan to crack down on crime and open air drug dealing as wrong-headed. D.A. Chesa Boudin said that “75 percent of those booked in jail are addicted or mentally ill” and called for a non-law enforcement-based approach. “Piling more resources into policing and punishment,” said Public Defender Mano Raju, have “never been the solutions to public health crises.” And Supervisor Shamann Walton called for a more “evidence-based” approach.

But the Mayor’s plan is evidence-based. Many addicts require the threat of jail or other forms of coercion to stop breaking the law and get their lives together. The approach to breaking up open drug scenes, treating addiction, and providing psychiatric care is fundamentally the same everywhere. The Department of Justice has even published a handbook for cities to use to break up open drug markets .

Progressives are right to worry about over-incarceration. Addicts and the mentally ill need treatment, not time in jail or prison. Simply arresting addicts and dealers and not helping them overcome their addiction, and find a new way of life, will not solve the problem.

But law enforcement is also necessary for shutting down open drug scenes. Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Vienna, and Zurich all closed their open-air drug scenes using a combination of law enforcement and social services. Miami over the last 20 years reduced its “homeless” population by 57 percent, despite skyrocketing rents, by closing open drug scenes and providing free psychiatric care and drug treatment and basic shelter.


1 reply »

  1. Again, I’m against tax funded bureaucracy doing anything. It would be better if they didn’t make laws and tax, but supposing they do its still better if they don’t spend that money out enforce them. Drug lords are frequently criminal scum, but the appropriate response is not to cry to the pigs but La Sombre Negra.

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