The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.
We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.
Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.
Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.
Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.
Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (“look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.
Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.
Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.
So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).
And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.
As rusty manufacturers blow away (to China, mostly), and agribusiness mechanizes and hires cheap immigrant labor for the parts that resist mechanization, rural, mainly white, America has seen the building and staffing of prisons as economic manna.
And what crimes have made prisons such a growth industry? Drug crimes.
MUDGE is prepared argue that there are two classes of drug related crime. The organized crime variety, the one with Glocks and AK47s — those criminals belong in prison — throw away the key.
The other class of “criminals” are the consumers of “recreational chemicals,” whose presence in the criminal justice system has bloated it out of all proportion.
The war on drugs has been the tooth of the drug enforcement tiger, attracting big dollars, big legal establishments and big prison systems, and finds very little distinction between supplier, dealer, and user. The war on drugs’ motto: Put them all away!
Let’s hear what San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had to say about this issue last week:
(CBS 5 / KCBS) SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the nation’s war on drugs a total failure and insisted the crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment as opposed to jailing people with drug problems.
“If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs,” he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. “You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs.”
The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.
Unlike alcohol use, unlike even commercial sex, tolerated in all but nine-counties-of-Nevada-form in most localities, we’ve let the Puritans continue to set the agenda on drugs.
The result: flourishing organized crime, brutal and deadly; burgeoning courts with backed up dockets; prisons often overcrowded despite the building boom; and users who rather than getting treatment for their addictive behavior are instead matriculated in crime school — jail.
The war on drugs makes no distinction between “recreational chemicals” and the increasing scientifically documented uses for marijuana for medical purposes.
Of course, Puritans (read: Republicans) don’t have a lot of use for science, unless it’s ridiculous pseudo-science like so-called “creation science.”
And so cancer patients and their doctors have also become criminals. What a waste!
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Now, MUDGE is not recommending total legalization. After all, alcohol was legalized 74 years ago, and while the impact on criminals was dramatic, the impact on addictive individuals, their families, and those unlucky enough to share the highways with them has remained dire. An impact, however, that, except for DUIs, the medical establishment has been deemed most appropriate to handle.
But, when Prohibition ended, so also did the lucrative line of business for criminals.
Several states, mainly in the East, still to this day restrict alcohol sales to state run facilities.
Okay, that sounds like a useful template. Open up state controlled substance stores. Demand six forms of identification if necessary to keep children far away.
Thus, let’s see what happens to drug crimes when to use drugs doesn’t require one to be a criminal.
Prohibition turned an entire nation into criminals, and changed the face of criminal activity in this country. Prohibition finally became unsustainable because the nation came to its senses realizing that even otherwise exemplary citizens had to behave like criminals and break the law to enjoy a drink.
Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.
But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.
Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.
Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.
Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.
Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.
Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.
Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.
Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.
Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?
It’s it for now. Thanks,