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News The biggest ignored issue

  1. Oct 12, 2004 #1
    With all this election year's talk about the war on terror and (or including, depending on your opinion) the war in iraq, America is also fighting another war, mainly within its own borders. That war is the "War on Drugs". After cosmology and cognitive neuroscience, I study this issue the most, so I bring it here.
    The main objective of this post is to elucidate the severity of this problem in the context of how such a major issue can be completely ignored in an election.
    The War on Drugs is being lost. It's an inescapable fact. Millions of Americans are effected by it, yet not only will neither major party talk about it, they don't even mention it on their positions page. It's a touchy issue deeply rooted in history and tied to emotion, and right now any politician who does anything differently is committing political suicide.

    Let's start by looking at the just a few of the realities of drug prohibition:
    -The US has a higher percentage of its population imprisoned then any advanced country, including all of western europe; the majority (as in 55% federal, higher in state) of prisoners in for a drug offense, the majority of them having committed no act of violence, theft, or any other crime.
    -40% of all HIV infections in African Americans are transmitted by sharing dirty needles for IV drug use, which is virtually eliminated by syringe exchange programs; but federal funding for such programs are not allowed, because the politicians and their constituents feel it would increase and condone use. Not only is this completely false, according to the NIH and CDC, but even if it was true, is letting so many easily preventable HIV infections occur really the right thing to do?
    -Speaking of right and wrong, I'm not too well versed in philosophy, but I'm pretty sure most standards of justice would say a law that 54% of the people under it have violated is not a just law.
    -From about $4 million at its inception to $40 billion now, decades later, use is the same, prices are down, purities are up, and drugs are easier to get than ever.
    -Something relavent to many of us here at PF; drug offenses are the ONLY crimes for which you can lose eligibility for federal student aid. 3 simple possession convictions, and you're ineligible for life. Murder, rape, terrorism... when you get out of jail, you're still eligible.
    -85% of drug related violence is due to black market control; crimes by users, mostly for money to buy drugs, are caused by a 17,000% markup; in a legal market it wouldn't cost more than an alcohol or nicotine habit.

    Whether you believe prohibition is the right way to go or not, my challenge is for anyone to defend why this issue does not receive national attention, in terms of why it doesn't matter to enough people to be something candidates in this election even broach.
    And if anyone would like to provide a reason for supporting the current policy, I'd be more than happy to address it.

    With the air of change in America, the fact this issue isn't even on the table scares me. I look forward to a civilized scientific discussion of this issue.

    Disclaimer: I want to clarify my position... I do not support or condone drug use. It is a problem in society and I believe it needs to be reduced. However, I believe full legalization, regulation, education, and treatment will best accomplish this goal and benefit society. For site liability purposes, do not discuss an illegal act you performed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2004 #2
    To look at it from a purely economic perspective, the war on drugs causes more drugs to enter the US. When authorities seize and destroy drugs, the supply of drugs decreases, obviously, which raises prices. This only encourages more people to sell drugs because the incentives are greater. Yes, black markets like the drug market are also bound by the laws of supply and demand.
  4. Oct 12, 2004 #3
    Well we know why Bush won't broach this issue..he's had a bunch of drunk driving arrests and cocaine use in the past.. duhhhh...
  5. Oct 12, 2004 #4
    Good post fafalone.
  6. Oct 12, 2004 #5
    If Afghanistan can somehow get a police force and make anti-opium laws, you cut out 75% of the world's opium suply right there, and the war on drugs and the war on terror play into each other nicely.
  7. Oct 12, 2004 #6


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    A simple way to increase revenues. End the war on drugs. Lay off half of the nations law enforcement officers, tax the sale of drugs. Turn an expense into income. Win Win.

    We cannot legislate morality!
  8. Oct 12, 2004 #7


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    Gotta love sensationalism. :smile: For a more even-handed collection of statistics, try http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcf/contents.htm [Broken] or http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/toc_4.html

    And one direct comment: if the war on drugs is losing, then why was there a sharp decline in hard drug use in the late 80s, from which it never recovered?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  9. Oct 12, 2004 #8
    It seems Hurkyl is able to supply AUTHORITIVE links to support his opinion, while fafalone can supply only opinion!
  10. Oct 13, 2004 #9


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    As Vietnam showed, 'not winning as well as we should' equals losing. :rolleyes:

    Several comments:

    For another Vietnam parallel, the reason we are "losing" is we aren't willing to do what is necessary to decisively win: go after the supply.
    Common sentiment. But why is murder illegal? Why is stealing illegal? Indeed, why is anything illegal? In fact, all laws are based on a moral framework.

    For the initial point of the thread though - the issue isn't being discussed because there aren't any votes to be had there. Plain and simple. Its another one of those issues that isn't treated seriously because the public doesn't view it rationally. That's the problem with people voting with their hearts and not their heads and politicians making decisions based on how it will affect the next election, not based on the best interests of the country.
  11. Oct 13, 2004 #10
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  12. Oct 13, 2004 #11
    I do appreciate Hurkyl providing those links. However, you seem to believe they show fafalone's opinion to be invalid. While fafalone's numbers do not agree well in all cases, the statistics are still appaling. The number of drug related crimes to support their habbit is up since the late 80's, and the percentage of drug related crimes is not down since the late 80's. What people do with their time is little of my business if it does not affect society. I could care less if fewer people are doing hard drugs if just as many people are committing crimes to get what they do use.

    There is little evidence the money spent in the past 20 years has done any good at all.
  13. Oct 13, 2004 #12
    I think the most important ignored issue is space exploration. Aside from that, environmental concerns are rarely addressed, (there has been one debate question on the topic thus far in 2004). I would put the war on drugs in the same category as gay marriages, it's not really an issue at all, it doesn't deserve attention compared to the war on terror, economy, etc. The reason it's irrelevant is because the war on drugs is futile. Illegal or not, if someone wants to get high, they will. It's that simple.

    No matter what arguments you use, you will seldom convince an anti drug person that although drugs are bad, the war on drugs is costly. You're just wasting time. Usually they'll believe even $5,000,000,000,000,000,000 would be well spent money, that's thanks to propaganda. Almost immediatly following the 9/11 attack, the "drug money funds terrorism" campaign rolled out. People associate drugs with this horrific attack. Another commercial showed two kids smoking a bong in their dad's office, and one kid finds a gun and shoots the other kid. Now we are blaming marijuana instead of blaming the negligent parents for leaving a loaded gun where a kid can get to it. Drugs are blamed for more problems than they cause, it's called scapegoating, and it's VERY effective. Also, people can break into cars or become prostitutes, etc. to support an alcohol addiction, a porn addiction, etc. Though crack or heroin addicts do too, you can't blame OTHER crimes on illegal drugs alone.

    The war on drugs may not be as costly as the statistics reflect. Let's say you get busted with only a nickel bag (a very small quantity) of cannabis, you can be subject to a hefty fine when you go to court, without taking up jail space at all. Also for only a tiny ammount your car can be SIEZED (even if it's a Lamborgini) and auctioned as well as all the money in your pocket (considered drug money). Sometimes on the news when you hear about a major drug bust, they show you stacks upon stacks of cash, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, which now belongs to the authorities. Are these "profits" calculated into the cost statistics? The government may be unfair, but they're not stupid. Also, (this is just personal speculation) there could be financial cooperation between the government, and the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries. Marijuana was outlawed only 4 years after alcohol was re-legalized (1937).

    If you smoke a joint in the comfort of your own home, with no one else around, you are not infringing on anyone else's rights, just hurting yourself. Yet you're still not allowed. This proves U.S.A. is NOT a free country.

    Let the presidential canditates worry about terrorism (the real problem). I don't remember Nixon, (he's before my time) but apparently he gained a lot of popularity due to his anti-drug stance, so maybe I'm wrong that the issue should be minimized.

    Please note this entire post is ONLY an illustration of my perception, not necessarily fact. Sorry it's so long.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2004
  14. Nov 25, 2004 #13

    and furthermore they showed an initial drop, but then stayed steady, despite massive funding and punishment increases.

    on what you were saying, the common citation is crime "caused" by drugs... the mast majority of that is between distributors, and a small percentage of users stealing to support the habit... neither of which would exist if it were legalized.
  15. Nov 25, 2004 #14


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    If drug use is down, but crime to support drug habits is steady, isn't the likely interpretation that the people being deterred are mainly just the ones who wouldn't get addicted anyway?

    And what are the trends of alcohol use? Have the people who have been deterred from illegal substances just gone back to booze as less of a hassle?
  16. Nov 25, 2004 #15
    To your first point, absolutely. Most of the people deterred who wouldn't be if it were illegal are going to be concerned with health and safety, which logically extends to them only using alcohol recreationally in due moderation, and would follow the same pattern with any other drug; and that social use pattern virtually never leads to addiction without actively choosing to change the pattern to include misuse.

    To your second comment, absolutely... but less due to hassle than to price. Criminal monopoly keeps markups at least several hundred percent. And also remember, technically speaking, alcohol is alot more dangerous in many ways, and more different ways, than MOST illegal drugs... the vision of approving of someone binge drinking than someone using an illegal drug is fundamentally flawed, as in more cases than not the binge drinker is causing more permanent damage to themselves and is more dangerous to others (motor vehicle impairment, beligerance, et al) than the strictly social drug user who's not drinking. Getting the average person to understand this, however, is certainly no easy task....
    The common scenario goes like this: Parent A loses a child to crashing their car while DUI. Parent B loses a child who crashes their car from being high on pot. Parent A goes on a crusade to promote safe drinking and not driving while drunk, and generally doesn't even mention the manufacturer. Parent B condemns the substance as an evil that should be banned, and its manufacturers should be locked up for life. It just does not make sense.

    Obviously people will have many counterclaims since I can't cover every detail in one post, but I look forward to intelligently addressing each one as its presented; I only ask for civil open minded discussing without hostile emotional tirades, stereotyping, character attacks on people who use or you believe use, or classism/racism (drug use appears in generally equal proportions in all socioeconomic brackets and racial groups, refer to newest NHSDA). We're a community of scientists trained to think logically and invest trust in published research over individual anecdotes, apply it to this issue too.

    Disclaimer: My explication of illegal drug use frequently being safer than alcohol use should not be construed as advice or endorsement of their use. Fight to change the law, but adhere to it while it's still there. Also, getting involved in the black market distro system is extremely dangerous due to its inherently violent nature, and subsequently I advise AGAINST it. Myself, I'm a computer nerd/science geek, way too scared of and unpopular with the crowd that gets anything besides pot, which I hate. People like me have no business in any activities not done behind a keyboard ;)
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2004
  17. Nov 25, 2004 #16
    It seems to me that this war on drugs should be that largest issue in US politics. It costs enormous amounts of money, it gets the police power off of fighting real crime and it fills prisons with people that do not cause other people any harm.

    This prohibition causes much worse effects than the alcohol prohibition in the 1920's, which was already causing quite extreme problems. The war on drugs keeps the drug prices high. If some young guy sees some opportunity to rise high in it, or if he does not see other opportunities, he may go into drug dealing with the prospect of earning lots of money (while of course also running enormous risks because of the dangers in the drug scene).

    If drugs would be made available in controlled drugs-shops where information was given to anyone who would come to ask for some drugs, and the drugs were given to those who persisted they wanted it, then we would simply have drug addicts that chose to be drug addicts and not all the crime and problems that we have now with this prohibition. Simply because it would not be such a profitable business. Nobody would want to let themselves in with these addicts except for the social workers. I think drug addiction would drop enormously after a ten years of such a policy.

    Moreover, the drug shops could also try to help people that want to try to stop their drug use, and organizing such drug shops would only cost a small part of what the War on Drugs is costing now.
  18. Nov 25, 2004 #17
    That speaks towards the argument legalization would increase use, which is completely unacceptable. Yes, drug use will increase for hard drugs (marijuana is so uniquitous legalization would likely have no impact). But taking the $40 bn spent each year, along with taxing legit sales, and spend alot of it real education (i.e. abstinence isn't the only option), harm reduction, and treatment for those who need help (only 14% of people who want it now can get it), and while use goes up, addiction goes down and lives aren't controlled by the drug, due to it generally not being a huge financial burden since treatment can be easily provided affordably by the large tax revenue, and people can get help and support from friends and family, eventually being treated just like an alcoholic now, not fearing going to prison if they seek help and as stereotypes are overcome, not being viewed as a POS junkie by their own friends and family.
    Furthermore, accidently street opiate overdoses would be virtually wiped out. Say cigarettes were made illegal. It wouldn't be too long till they appeared on the street, along with pure powder nicotine since it's easier to smuggle. Say you buy a baggie of nicotine... how much is actually in there? Anywhere from 50mg to 500mg. 5mg is a strong single dose. 60mg will kill you. Good luck guesing. That's what it's like with heroin, which has a normal dose of 5-15mg... except it's not as deadly (by LD50/ED50 (lethal/effective doses) to us pharm chem geeks) as nicotine (or addictive btw) since it takes around 150mg to kill a non-tolerant user.

    Drug users are not shadowy lowlives with no regard for the law. They're our family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, F students, A students, Ivy League students, rich people, poor people, black, white, hispanic. These are people you help, not people who deserve longer prison sentences than rapists and murderers when they've harmed no one and put at risk only consenting adults putting arbitrarily restricted chemicals into their own body. I would LOVE to hear a cogent argument advocating keeping the current prohibition system, or even toughening it. Have yet to hear one that was logically sound.
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  19. Nov 25, 2004 #18


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    All this just makes it seem like the current enforcement regime "works" mostly in the sense that it serves to make drug use less visible in middle class communities, so the real beneficiary is just the politicians who tout the policy. This is especially true if teenagers who would be using the drugs just use alcohol instead (indeed, this would seem to be one way that drug use would count as "less visible").

    Yeah, it's annoying that you can't talk about this stuff without people assuming that you're just out to justify your own predilections.
  20. Nov 25, 2004 #19
    The media doesn't want to hear about treating addicts, they want to hear about locking them up longer. Extreme negative emotions have been tied so deeply to drugs by years of propaganda, terrible education programs that are proven ineffective beyond 1 year after completion but still funding, that politicians can't even suggest a non-punitive approach... that's why changing public attitude has to precede trying to change the laws... it's working well with pot since it's cheaper, used by half of americans at some point, and doesn't have as a bad a worse-case-scenario for someone dependent on it. "Hard" drugs, which cause far more deaths when they're illegal because of ODs, criminal distro, and addiction potential vs. price of addiction... have been villified alot more. There's damn solid scientific and logical evidence that not only does heroin not cause permanent damage in a pure form, but ultimately if it were legal society would be far better off... try getting someone who's never used any drug they'll admit to to even consider that. The image of the junkie living only to stick a needle in his arm again is very powerful, and very deeply ingrained.
    I have some luck with this after explaining it for a few hours, but that's because I'm academically successful and have a very good reputation, and really know a huge volume of facts on the issue... if you don't really understand why, you won't convince anyone... so the message gets spready very slowly.
    With closed-minded people with a lesser degree of intelligence, you'll get nowhere. I actually had someone kick me out of his house because I called him an idiot for refusing to believe a research paper I pulled up from PubMed. Can't get discouraged tho, some people will always stick to a belief no matter how thoroughly it's disproven... al la Bush :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2004
  21. Nov 25, 2004 #20

    Not really... people you don't know won't assume you do it if you don't fit the fashion style and hairdo of someone they would associate.

    And someone you know... if you've acheived alot and really have your life together and on track to big things... it actually helps because the common belief is anyone who does drugs could never get A's and finish college.

    The disclaimer is more for site liability purposes (and my personal liability)... recommending people, particularly the minors hear something they like from someone they see as an adult expert, break the law opens the door for lawsuits if they OD/hurt themselves/die/get arrested and their parents found out they read professional advice it was safe/legal, and like I said in a previous post, when parent B loses a child to drugs, they're out for blood and punishment, and could care less about educating kids how they should stay away from drugs, but if they choose to experiment here's how to do it safely, because of all the irrational villification of "illegal" drugs. While I do consider myself an expert in the area qualified to give professional level advice, I'll wait till SCOTUS decides Raich v. Ashcroft to determine whether it's legal to suggest people break the law for a medical problem. (stands a good chance of working out good, since their defense it through interstate commerce clause, when there absolutely no good argument another state is involved)

    It was also interesting when we spent an entire day in my into to philosophy class using many different ethical analysis and morality analysis methods to show drug use cannot be held as universally immoral or unethical, and that it really wasn't against any major religion, even though drug use existed at every point and place in history... yet is never mentioned as inherently unacceptable.
    Showing how recreational use can't be considered immoral led alot of people to start thinking about why they believed people who use them belonged in jail. (Obviously use to win a competition can be wrong, and also when analyzing yourself, but for fun is fine)

    Many many educated, respected, and powerful people use drugs, and I think its important they stop hiding and come out and say that moderate use for fun won't take over and ruin their life. I'm sure there's people who think I shouldn't be allowed to post it because it might encourage use, but musicians are probably the biggest influence on kids and their drug ABUSE (not use in most interesting enough to get attention) is certainly no secret from even teh very young, and I will defend my philosophy that harm reduction should be taught from the very first drug talk, people have to get over their preaching and threats of lives being ruined and realize that punitive threats and pushing worst case scenarios of ruined lives and addiction DO NOT WORK and actually make things worse... because when kids find out they don't turn into mindless deadbeats when they smoke pot, they're less likely to believe real dangers like lung cancer. Less kids will try things if they're not "forbidden fruits" and are far less likely to get addicted if they do try something. These aren't opinions, these are backed up by studies and established principles of child and adolescent psychology.
    In Amsterdam, where pot is legal, they have a LOWER PERCENTAGE (not raw numbers) of teens who use it. Is human nature so varied that it compensates for less even with completely acceptance of personal use? No, it's because over there, it's not a big deal. It's something they grow up around and always have. It's not a big deal, and is therefore less of a problem. Same thing with alcohol the world over, no where else has a drinking age set so high, and no where else has so many deaths and binge drinkers.
    Don't look for any sense in the way people feel... hell it still baffles me how the religious right, who are most against legalization, support Bush with his DUI arrest and likely cocaine arrest and refusing to answer when asked if he'd tried it... he got a "second chance" and then advocated a policy denying such a chance to people in the same situation... I guess being "born again" makes you a brand new person to the religious...

    I've found the most effective approach is to ask them a series of questions they already know, or accept without doubt, the answer to, that leads them to a realization of a particularly ridiculous drug policy, they'll understand it better. Example: Are Cocaine-HCl and Cocaine are the exact same thing in what they do? So, is it fair that under the law 5g Cocaine carries the same mandatory minimum of 500g cocaine, particularly when it's no secret cocaine is far more popular with African-Americans and Cocaine-HCl dominates white users? Why did Congress delcine to take up a bill to correct such a racist unbalance?
    The most extreme and nonsensical laws like that get people interested enough to listen seriously to more points.

    The hardest part is when you deal with someone who lost a loved one to a drug... they're instantly appaled at any mention of legalization, and when you confront them that freedom to ask and ability to get treatment without fear means their loved one would be alive today... you're in for a hell of a tearfull tirade just using extreme emotive reasons for prohibition... classic application of a defense mechanism.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 25, 2004
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