U.S. Government Website Admits Drug War Enforcement Causes Violence

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

By Sean Dunagan, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

As anyone who pays attention to the issue can tell you, the brazen dishonesty of the propaganda front in the war on drugs is enough to make any Madison Avenue ad man wince:  Cannabis has no medicinal value. Your brain, on drugs, transforms into a fried egg.  Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind (that one’s a quote from Harry Anslinger, the former Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics).  It would be a hilarious spectacle, if not for the fact that so many people actually believe what they are told.

Yet, sometimes, the truth—as it is prone to do—finds a way to peek through the veil and let itself be known.  Witness last year’s Department of Homeland Security report concluding that eliminating cartel “kingpins” has no impact on drug trafficking levels, and DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young’s 1988 finding that marijuana “has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and should, accordingly, be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

Another such moment of drug war reason occurred in April in the form of statements made by Dr. Mark Kleiman, a UCLA Professor of Public Policy and former visiting fellow at the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice.  In a video posted on the NIJ’s web site, Dr. Kleiman candidly observes:

Everybody knows that drug abuse and crime are sort of the same thing, and therefore fighting the war on drugs is a good way to reduce crime.  Unfortunately, that ain’t so. And we need to distinguish sharply between policies to reduce drug abuse and the damage that it does to individuals and the people around them and policies to reduce predatory crime . . .

A lot of the stuff we do that’s supposed to control drug abuse actually turns out to increase predatory crime.  We could think about not doing that.  In particular, drug law enforcement has a natural tendency to increase the stakes in drug dealing.  To put more money on the table, to put more time behind bars at risk, and therefore to increase the value of violence to people engaged in the illicit drug trade. . . That ramping up drug law enforcement is going to increase, rather than decrease, violence.  That’s what we’ve been seeing in Mexico.

As a former DEA analyst, I find it astonishing that these statements were made by a DOJ-funded researcher and posted to a DOJ web site.  Lest anyone doubt that the drug policy reform movement is succeeding, I would ask you to try to imagine these statements having been allowed during the Just Say No era.

I should note that Dr. Kleiman does not advocate for legalization; instead, he makes the rather strained argument that the drug war is worthwhile, but that law enforcement efforts focusing on violent actors in the drug business would be more effective.  I would argue that while such an approach is certainly more morally justifiable than locking up, say, elderly cancer patients who use medical marijuana, it’s inherently inconsistent with his own observations about the causal relationship between prohibition and violence.  Locking up elderly cancer patients doesn’t “increase the value of violence” for drug traffickers.  Locking up violent drug traffickers does, simply because it raises the stakes.

In economic terms, the illicit drug market is driven almost entirely by risk premiums.  In Colombia, a kilogram of cocaine costs less than $3,000.  By the time it reaches the U.S., that price has increased at least sixfold.  Why?  Because the risk of trying to evade the Coast Guard, Customs and DEA folks who try to interdict it along the way has a quantifiable value.  The dynamic is multiplied at the retail level.  Standing on a street corner selling coke by the gram is a pretty high-exposure (hence high-risk) endeavor, so the price jumps up to roughly $100 a gram in most cities.

That market dynamic in the milieu of prohibition will always engender violence because prohibition ensures that only criminals will be engaged in the market.  So, imagine that Dr. Kleiman’s suggested approach were to be adopted so successfully that the risk of arrest for traffickers increased dramatically.  Would Chapo Guzman, the billionaire head of the Sinaloa cartel who is listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest men in the world, decide that drug trafficking had just gotten too risky and find another line of work?  I sincerely doubt it.  The result would be an upward adjustment of the risk premium.  That would mean that drugs became more expensive.  That would mean that transporting and selling them became more profitable.  That would mean that the stakes would be higher, and traffickers would defend their market share with even greater violence.  That would mean, as we have witnessed over and over again, that prohibition makes the problems associated with the drug trade worse, not better.

We see this in a very tangible way in Mexico, where I worked for two years with the DEA.  In 2006, there were roughly 2,100 drug-related murders in the country.  In December of that year, Felipe Calderon assumed the presidency promising to redouble the country’s fight against drug traffickers.  He deployed the military to the streets, waging an all-out assault against the “worst of the worst” (like the one suggested by Dr. Kleiman).  Last year, the death toll topped 12,000.

I applaud Dr. Kleiman’s lucid assessment of the relationship between prohibition and crime, but I’m absolutely dumbfounded by his inability to draw a sound conclusion from his own premises.  The fact is that drug market violence is a direct and natural consequence of prohibition.  To suggest that it can be eradicated without ending prohibition is to suggest that a tree can be killed by plucking a few of its leaves.

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20 Responses to “U.S. Government Website Admits Drug War Enforcement Causes Violence”

  1. #1 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “That’s what we’ve been seeing in Mexico.”

    Yes it its. But as long as its mostly brown and black bodies being sacrificed on the altar of puritanism and job security then these deluded fucks will believe it is worth it. Drug prohibition has been a racist endeavor since day one.

  2. #2 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Of course, when they say in the news “drug-related death/injury” (as they have been trained to say) they should be saying “Prohibition-related death/injury.” Unless it’s an overdose.
    4 times out of 5 it’s the former.

  3. #3 |  Dante | 

    Funny how news this important is ignored by the MSM. Nobody cares.

    Perhaps we need a semi-naked girl, or some reality-show sleazeball to tell Americans about the failures of prohibition.

  4. #4 |  the myth, the man, the legend | 

    Very strange how such an intelligent man thinks that the drug market can be permanently killed by a few weeks of complete disruption, let alone that the drug market can be completely disrupted at all!

  5. #5 |  Phoenix923 | 

    Saying the deaths and injuries are “drug related” keeps the police from having to the investigative paperwork.

  6. #6 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    Perhaps we need a semi-naked girl…to tell Americans about the failures of prohibition.

    I volunteer.

  7. #7 |  liberranter | 

    I hope I’m wrong in thinking that Sean Dunagan is operating from faulty premises in that he assumes that the PTB are ignorant of the statistics and their causes. However, I honestly cannot imagine that a man of his experience isn’t well aware that those at the top know very well that Prohibition results in crime, that the escalation of such crime is one of their primary goals, and that the justification for grabbing more power in order to fight this inevitable “drug crime” is the end in and of itself.

    Still, Dunagan’s writing serves the essential function of “wake up call” for those millions of deluded souls among the general population who are still in thrall to the “official” policy and who still believe that goal of a “drug-free society” can be accomplished without completely destroying what little remains of a free society.

  8. #8 |  divadab | 

    Kleiman makes his living from prohibition. His conclusions flow from this fundamental conflict of interest – here’s a man who will lose his lucrative income if prohibition is ended.

    That Kleiman is a moral degenerate is pretty apparent, if not to him. He thinks he is righteous, like most people whose livings are based on unjust dominion. He can’t believe he is wrong.

    The terrible thing is that these moral degenerates’ salaries are paid for by us, the victims of their unjust dominion. Pretty sad state of affairs.

  9. #9 |  MH | 

    “Of course, when they say in the news “drug-related death/injury” (as they have been trained to say) they should be saying ‘Prohibition-related death/injury.’ Unless it’s an overdose.”

    Overdoses can also be related to prohibition. In the black market there are no lawful standards for packaging and labeling a discrete dose of drug, which can contribute to overdosing. And given that users and dealers are criminals they can’t make use of the legal system to punish people for torts committed against them.

  10. #10 |  noseeum | 

    I disagree with Kleiman on a lot of things, but he is no shill for prohibition. And I would most definitely not say he “makes his living” off of it.

    It’s perfectly rational for someone to fear legalization. It’s a drastic change from current policy. If we were to adapt all of Kleiman’s recommendations would be much closer to a rational drug policy than we are today. I would definitely wish to go further than him, but he’s someone who I would say thinks clearly and honestly about this issue. He just comes to conclusions I disagree with.

    Generally he does not want marijuana to be marketed like alcohol, and so he does not want mass production to be allowed. He fears increased usage among kids. So he favors allowing personal production and co-ops but prohibiting marketing. Something along this lines.

    Seems like a waste of time to me. Just legalize it already. But it’s better than status quo for sure.

    I would say that the author of this post is mis-characterizing Kleiman’s position. I’ve never seen him say the drug war is worthwhile. He calls it a complete failure. He just does not want ubiquitous easy access and marketing of drugs. Maybe you think “anything other than ful legalization means drug war,” but I certainly son’t think that’s true.

  11. #11 |  Fred Bush | 

    “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”

    This quote is all over the web attributed to Anslinger but I can’t find a primary source; it appears to be spurious. I think you should stop using it.

  12. #12 |  Andrew | 

    @ Fred Bush it’s not spurious.. it’s in a collective of quotes from Harry Anslinger’s 1930s campaign.. he used racism to sway the government to ban marijuana, and the real reason was William Randolph Hearst. W.R. Hearst’s cotton paper production was threatened by industrial HEMP… which is NOT marijuana… you need to read this history of this…

    our FOUNDING FATHERS grew AND smoked cannabis… George Washington’s journal describes his habit of “separating the males from the females” …the male plants are good for two things. fertilizing flowers and creating fiber. That was the LAW back then.. EVERYONE was required to grow hemp.

  13. #13 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @8 – Sure.

    There’s a proven model for harm minimization, which is Portugal’s. I support it.

  14. #14 |  Jillian Galloway | 

    It’s about time our government recognized that a lot of Americans like to get high on something other than alcohol. If our legislators really cared about keeping people safe then they would legalize every recreational drug that’s safer than booze.

    That would retain alcohol as the most harmful recreational drug legally available while at the same time give people the right to legally choose safer alternatives to alcohol.

    If the government really cared about keeping children safe then why is it bending over backwards to make them unsafe?

  15. #15 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Prohibition is an awful flop.
    We like it.
    It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
    We like it.
    It’s left a trail of graft and slime,
    It won’t prohibit worth a dime,
    It’s filled our land with vice and crime.
    Nevertheless, we’re for it.

    Franklin P. Adams, 1931

    In reaction to recommendations of a panel of ‘experts’ concerning continued enforcement of the Volstead Act.

  16. #16 |  Ted S. | 

    “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”

    No; power is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.

  17. #17 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #12 Ted S.:
    “No; power is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

    Wow. Succinct, to the point and pretty much impossible to refute if you know your history. Well done Ted!

  18. #18 |  Joe Curwen | 

    The connection between prohibition and violence has been well-known for decades. What has changed, I think, is the general public’s acceptance of the trade-off that was originally proposed. That is, we were supposed to put up with the violence and other parts of the downside in return for a general improvement in the condition of society. As the conditions of our society have steadily deteriorated the trade-off looks less and less acceptable to the average citizen. Add to that the number of people who have seen first or second hand the damages wrought by prohibition and we have a really losing PR combination. Those statistics of violence have faces, names, and addresses. All the phony, government backed propaganda from the ONDCP can’t erase the memories of violence, prison, death, and personal tragedy that burden more and more people.

  19. #19 |  TGGP | 

    As a fan of both legalization and Kleiman, I suppose its the latter I should stick up for here. Kleiman has actually written an explicit plan (.doc form here) for the Mexican government, and its not the one they’re currently executing. His plan involves concentrating one ONE bad actor at a time, the one on the government’s “shit list” as a result of its violence. It’s a list no cartel will want to be on, because it will steadily lose ground to its competitors.

    Kleiman does not “make his living off prohibition”. He’s a professor and writes on topics other than just drugs. I highly recommend his book “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment”.

  20. #20 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @17 – Ah, that’s why you want it concentrated in as few CEO’s as possible then, fewer people will be harmed by holding it.