Among the Policies That Don’t Work, Add the Drug War

Policies, we have policies.

Our government may be short on solutions and polarized beyond all help, transfixed in the headlights of what on earth to do about anything and satiated on K-Street loot for not doing it, but by god they have policies.

Policymakers are defined as “Someone who sets the plan pursued by a government or business” and the nearest synonyms are important person, influential person. Lotta harrumphing in the policymaking business and damned little responsibility for what has been wrought. Which makes it serious and blameless all in the same context. No wonder so many flock to the trade.

Then of course we have taken to having ‘wars’ on anything that gets serious consideration in the policy departments of government. That singular achievement has made the waging of war and the waging of policy equally meaningless. So we have devised a set of rules to definine policy. Certain standards must be met, that include but are not limited to

  • Seriousness
  • Blamelessness
  • Meaninglessness

A lot of ‘nesses,’ but the requisites are absolutely perfect for political purpose. Lawmakers have gone into the business on a full-time basis.

From Wikipedia-The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress noted in a 1989 report that the nation’s war on drugs could be considered to have started in public policy dating to November 1880, when the U.S. and China completed an agreement that prohibited the shipment of opium between the two countries. By February 1887, the 49th Congress enacted legislation making it a misdemeanor for anyone on American soil to be found guilty of violating this ban. It became officially the “war on drugs” in the 1930s, with the marijuana scare that banned possession and cultivation of cannabis (including hemp).

Marijuana scare? Immigrant scare would be more accurate. Mexican immigrants were known in those days to smoke a bit and since there were no jobs during the middle of the depression, it became convenient as well as necessary to deport the no longer needed. An interesting story there.

But it was President Nixon, whose legacies include his War on Drugs in 1971 as well as the breast-feeding of such current political scourges as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Nixon characterized the abuse of illicit substances as “America’s public enemy number one.” Turned out the most illicit substance was Dick himself.

Nixon policy sought to cause a massive surge in the cost of drugs, the idea being that they would price themselves out of the market.

Ah, the unintended consequences of policy-making.

He succeeded big-time, raising the market value of the trade in highly targeted drugs such as cocaine and heroin to over a trillion dollars. For the monetarily bleary-eyed (and who wouldn’t be in these times of absurd numbers?) a trillion dollars is a thousand billion.

A thousand billion adds up to more than the Marshall Plan, more than (up to now) the cost of the Iraq war by twice, more than the cost of building the nation’s schools (primary and secondary) including all the teachers in the nation. Breathtakingly, it is almost as much as George Bush has given away to the rich.

Which is why this policy of tricky-Dick’s, that did for market value what McDonalds and Wal-Mart could only envy, has provided incentive on a level never before seen in the history of the world. Nixon’s marketing miracle took ordinary dope-heads and financially elevated them to rock-star status in the poorest neighborhoods of America. He single-handedly, with the stroke of a presidential pen, turned two-bit petty criminals into moguls.

Suddenly they were driving Cadillacs, murdering one another with impunity, terrorizing neighborhoods and enticing your and my kid to try whatever it was they had to sell. Formerly  near-worthless pot and meth and mind-altering substances that few had cared about or been involved with, became the food of the gods.

There was so much money where there had been none before that dealers were able to pay off (or kill) judges and whole juries. At borders and checkpoints they were able to pay off (or kill) DEA agents. In South American and Middle Eastern countries they were able to pay off (or kill) entire governments. In businesses and banks worldwide, the formerly-poor and morally-questionable were able to pay off (or kill) anyone who objected to their demands for entry.

In the year 2000, 17,000 souls cashed in from all drug-related causes in the U.S. We have, thus far in 2006 (another 3 mos to go) spent $33 billion for enforcement. If I have the zeros properly sorted out, that’s just under $2 million per death.  Does something about that equation seem strange to you?

As all good things will, extreme amounts of money floating around led to extremes of all associated kinds and flavors. The end result has been a financial, legal, governmental and business melting-down that stuns the average law-abiding mind. Born of what began as diversionary politics, the simplistic get-our-kids-off the-streets covering up equally simplistic politicians with hands in our pockets began to have a life of its own.

But it’s run amok, out of control and has come to subvert our entire nation as well as other nations of the world. Instead of a few poor fools needled-out on urine soaked mattresses, we now have neighborhoods where drive-by shootings are the norm, prisons filled to capacity and a drug-based mafia that makes the Italians look like school-kids.

The Russians are coming has taken on a whole new meaning.

There was an editorial in the New York Times by John Tierney, The Czars’ Reefer Madness that everyone should read. Unfortunately, the NYT has cordoned it off behind their $40 annual “Times Select” usury policy. But it describes Amsterdam honestly and accurately. I have been to Amsterdam a number of times and attest to the successful Dutch civil policy toward drugs.

We are all policymakers of a sort; the New York Times ‘Select,’ the Dutch government and Richard Nixon.

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