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The Big Lie

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If the failed and unconstitutional “war on drugs” really needed another nail in its coffin, the 60-page report “Illicit Drugs and Crime” by Bruce L. Benson and David W. Rasmussen, professors of economics at Florida State University, should do the job.

After studying crime rates in Florida, which poured vast resources into a beefed-up drug war in the years 1984-89, and in Kansas, which did not, Benson and Rasmussen conclude in their report, released August 16 by the Independent Institute:

“In hindsight, it appears that Kansas’s relatively modest involvement in the nationwide drug war during the 1984-89 period has resulted in its citizens being relatively safe from crime. This assertion will come as a surprise to many people, but reality mandates that when scarce resources are used to do one thing, they cannot be used to do something else . . .”

One consequence of shifting resources to the drug war is that “violent and property criminals are not caught until they have committed a relatively large number of crimes, if they are caught at all.” Then, as jails and prisons clog up with nonviolent drug offenders, those violent felons “can be forced out of prison relatively early . . . freeing them to commit new crimes”

The “drugs cause crimes” analysis fails utterly, according to the Florida economists’ research. Most drug users who commit crimes against person or property reported in interviews that they turned to crime before they started using drugs, not the other way around. In fact, it was the higher disposable income and unsavory new connections produced by a life of crime that made it possible for them to buy drugs. “Crime leads to drug use, not vice versa,” the professors found.

Because the diversion of resources into the drug war led to a “reduced probability of arrest” for robbery or burglary, “the property crime rate in Florida rose 16.3 percent” from 1983 to 1989. Violent crime also increased markedly, as dealers displaced from neighborhoods where they had long been content “invaded the turf of established dealers, and residents of previously untapped markets fell prey to violent criminals. Since 1989, Florida has reduced its drug enforcement efforts, and its property crime rate has fallen.”

The drug war has even uglier unintended consequences. “Drug entrepreneurs” who run into trouble at the border develop domestic sources of production. “It is now estimated that marijuana is the largest cash crop in California,” the professors report.

When the government started looking for domestic marijuana via aerial infrared reconnaissance, California growers moved indoors, switching to “more potent strains” which can produce a $75 million profit out of a $1 million investment in a single year.

And when interdiction started to have some success in California, some growing shifted to the mountains of Kentucky, “involving people whose cultural roots included moonshining and a history of violence, making the trade rougher than it had been before.”

Of course, because marijuana is bulky and easy to detect, customers are urged to try “harder” drugs like crack cocaine and heroin, which represent higher profit per volume. And to reduce their chances of dealing directly with police informants, dealers “lengthen drug distribution chains and use younger drug pushers and runners,” who are known to be dealt with far more leniently by the courts.

Tobacco addicts who favor the drug war often argue that “their” habit doesn’t produce the physical changes and withdrawal cravings of “bad” drugs. In fact, marijuana and the hallucinogens are not addictive at all, in any medical sense. And if tobacco smokers think their drug of choice can’t create any of the startling physical side effects of heroin addiction, they need only try one simple experiment: Quit.

If tobacco is outlawed, how long will it be before we have “shag houses” in our inner-city neighborhoods, before smugglers tired of being undone by tobacco-sniffing dogs come up with a purified white buffered nicotine, suitable for snorting or injection?

The pathologies of the drug culture are caused not by drugs, but by drug prohibition .

“Illicit Drugs and Crime” only bears out what anyone with open eyes should already know — with the War on Drugs, we’ve allowed Big Brother to tear up our Constitution and use it for toilet paper. In return, they promised that our streets and our children would be safe. They lied.

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    Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.