Another Conservative Questions the Quagmire

The arguments in favor of ending the failed war on drugs keep rolling in, this time from well-known conservative commentator George Will:

Consider current policy concerning the only addictive intoxicant currently available as a consumer good — alcohol. America’s alcohol industry, which is as dependent on the 20 percent of heavy drinkers as they are on alcohol, markets its products aggressively and effectively. Because marketing can drive consumption, America’s distillers, brewers and vintners spend $6 billion on advertising and promoting their products. Americans’ experience with marketing’s power inclines them to favor prohibition and enforcement over legalization and marketing of drugs.

But this choice has consequences: More Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses or drug-related probation and parole violations than for property crimes. And although America spends five times more jailing drug dealers than it did 30 years ago, the prices of cocaine and heroin are 80 to 90 percent lower than 30 years ago.

In “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know,” policy analysts Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken argue that imprisoning low-ranking street-corner dealers is pointless: A $200 transaction can cost society $100,000 for a three-year sentence. And imprisoning large numbers of dealers produces an army of people who, emerging from prison with blighted employment prospects, can only deal drugs. Which is why, although a few years ago Washington, D.C., dealers earned an average of $30 an hour, today they earn less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25).

While the libertarian-leaning wing of the GOP has long seen the drug war as a failed policy that infringes on personal liberty, the fiscal conservatives rightly point out the unsustainable costs involved, and there are now indications that the social conservatives, like Pat Robertson, are beginning to come out against the drug war for moral reasons. All of these points stand on their own merits, imo, but when they’re combined they make a strong case for the GOP to come out as opposed to the drug war. Unfortunately, I won’t hold my breath.

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4 Responses to Another Conservative Questions the Quagmire

  1. BG says:

    If the SoCons are starting to see this war on drugs as nuts, then we may see ending it as a GOP plank sooner rather than later. I almost get the feeling that the Dems would rather continue it than most in the GOP would. I don’t think it will come out for 2012, but maybe for 2014 or 2016.

    • Drae says:

      I agree the democrats would continue the war, for one very important factor. They get too much money from public unions – police, prosecutors, public defenders. Although both parties get money from these unions – they know to butter both sides of the bread.

      I’m not quite as optimistic as you, but here’s hoping you’re right!

  2. I think the main reasons for political support for the war on drugs is to maximize employment prospects for law enforcement and provide increasing revenue for the prison industry. The Socons like the war on drugs because they never miss a chance to impose their morality on others and the Dems like it because it supports union jobs. Until one side or the other gives up the unflinching support, there won’t be any significant change in policy.

    And it doesn’t matter one bit that the current tactics don’t work. Most all politicians seem to go by the notion that if the medicine isn’t working, just keep increasing the dosage until it does.

    • Drae says:

      You’re absolutely right – it’s the prison-industrial complex that is the major barrier to reform. For them, the drug war is job security. Most Americans think less crime is a good thing, but not law enforcement. For them, lower crime rates threaten their jobs. And this is why Milton Friedman called the drug war a “socialist enterprise,” because it constantly gives more power and resources to the government.

      But new polling shows 50% of Americans think it’s time to legalize marijuana, and I believe that number will only grow. Politicians will have no choice but to keep their voters happy, and comply with their wishes… eventually.

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