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The Hidden Costs of Drug Prohibition

March 19, 2019 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

For over 100 years, America’s drug war has been a part of
our lives. For those, like me, who grew up consuming Reagan-era
anti-drug propaganda, the drug war resembled a holy crusade of
purification more than a criminal-justice problem. Murderers,
robbers, and rapists were treated as criminals of opportunity and
desire, but drug users were moralized in the language of sin and
redemption. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I asked the
most basic and fundamental question about the drug war: Why
do heroin addicts get cages and alcoholics get
treatment?

Only by asking that question was I able to cut through the pall
of anti-drug propaganda that had been pulled over my eyes.
It’s often observed that, during wartime, home-front
propaganda focuses on dehumanizing the enemy. The Vietnamese became
“Gooks,” Germans became “Huns,” and
Japanese became “Japs.” Converting your enemy to a
subhuman thing seems almost necessary if we’re going to ask
soldiers to do something that is supposed to be morally prohibited
— namely kill another human being.

Similarly, spending a day on the front lines of the drug war and
then going out for drinks after work requires some form of mental
gymnastics. Illicit drug users become “junkies,” while
alcoholics are lovingly given the bucolic name
“lushes.” The drug war, like so many legal prohibitions
on vices and private behavior, is rooted in the dehumanization of
the drug users usually based on racial stereotypes and moralistic
class warfare. That’s why heroin users get cages.

Many of the costs of drug
prohibition are well known, but some of the most insidious and
invidious costs are under-discussed.

But heroin users — as well as users of other illicit drugs
— get more than cages. Due to drug prohibition, illicit drug
users get dangerous and overly potent drugs. Due to drug
prohibition, we all get a hostile and increasingly ineffective
system of law enforcement that violates civil liberties on a daily
basis. And due to drug prohibition, we have millions of people
under some form of criminal-justice supervision, whether it’s
jail, prison, or probation, all because of the racially charged
fears of white men 80-100 years ago. Many of the costs of drug
prohibition are well known, but some of the most insidious and
invidious costs are under-discussed. Listen…

Creating and Killing Drug Addicts

Black-market drugs are often tainted with various impurities and
poisons. Their potency is often unknown, endangering users with the
possibility of overdose. These are well-known consequences of drug
prohibition. A less well-known consequence, however, is how drug
prohibition makes drugs stronger and therefore both more dangerous
and more addictive.

It’s easy to see why. Under prohibition, illicit …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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