DrugMonkey asks; Decriminalization: What would happen?
I am happy to answer. Accepting of course, that I have no special knowledge of the future and what it will actually look like. But I can make some pretty reasonable hypotheses.
First, I will note that I think decriminalization would be about the stupidest thing we could do. It ignores too many of the reasons we have made it illicit in the first place and creates an environment in which regulation is far more of a challenge.
Legalization is a great way to solve a lot more problems and create a much greater tax base. And I believe that from a harm reduction standpoint, it is a win, even when dealing with addiction. But I would like to step back from that, onto a point that applies to both legalization and decriminalization. Please bear with me, as to fully extend my hypothesis requires throwing prostitution and even gambling into the mix - though it's not absolutely necessary.
I would argue that just as important as the discussion of drug users and potential new drug users, is the cost of the illegal nature of drugs to society as a whole. We'll split it up into it's different aspects, though there is some overlap.
First factor is the direct financial cost. We are spending untold billions every year, both in fighting the war on drugs and imprisoning offenders. Several states are spending significant percentages of their budgets on maintaining our massive prison and jail populations. In a lot of states, drug offenses account for better than half the incarcerations at any given time. The state of MI for example, spends better than sixty percent of it's budget on incarcerations. This does not include what we spend on addiction treatment and research. On top of that, we spend billions every year, just on prosecuting the war on drugs.
By ending the war on drugs, we could save a lot of that money and move some of it into the realms of treatment and research. By ending the overarching war on vice, we could reduce the incarcerated population even more and save even more money.
Second, doing so would help foment stability in some notoriously unstable regions of the world. While I have no illusions that legalization would put cocaine lords in Columbia out of business, it would legitimize their business and remove much of the impetus to maintain the volatile status quo. And in the poppy fields of the mid east it would do wonders for farmers, while possibly making it easier to dislodge some of the local warlords who are in turn, supporting or directly engaged in terrorism. Which brings us headlong into my next point.
Third, we would be decimating a major source of funding for terrorists of all stripes. It's not just Jihadis who fund their activities through the illicit drug trade. The IRA did it, the PLO has and probably still does it. Hamas has had it's hands in it and probably still does. German national socialist groups do it. White supremacist groups in the U.S. do it, in the hopes of committing attacks on U.S. soil. Anyone who wants to have a hidden source of ready cash, can and often does turn to illicit drug dealing. And terrorists top the list of folks who need ready cash they don't have to account for (maybe behind our own intelligence organizations).
Finally, we get to crime. Not the specific crime of using/dealing illicit drugs - we're ignoring that in this point. I'm talking about related crime and this is where prostitution and gambling come into play. Because the vast majority of violent crime in the U.S. is related to one of those three trades.
I won't try to pretend that decrim or legalization is going to eliminate it. I won't even claim that everyone who engages in vice related violent crime will stop using violence. But the fact of the matter is, that there will be an inevitable and significant reduction in violent crime, when the war on vice is ended and vice is legal and safe. The majority of people who get into the illicit trades and by default end up involved in violent crime, would not go there is there wasn't a significant profit to be had from it.
You don't see the guy who owns the convenience store up the street, shooting it out with his dairy supplier, because he got a load of rotten milk. Why not? I mean if the crack dealer at the other end of the block gets a bunk supply, he's likely to go out ready to kick some serious ass, if he doesn't go out with a loaded gun. Well, the convenience store owner has the law on his side. He has legitimate venues in which to seek redress. The crack dealer simply doesn't and violent crime happens.
I realize that I'm ignoring the factor of how this affects the drug users themselves. I will try to get to it, but anyone who's read my blog knows to take that with a grain of salt. Ultimately, I don't believe that the affect on users and abusers is as important as the affect on the rest of society. As it stands, we all are paying a massive price for a proven abysmal failure and the users and abusers are suffering for it too. Bottom line, we're at a point where it can only get better from here.