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March 09, 2008

Comments

Greg Kuperberg

the drug war is an abysmal failure

This is one of the great cliches of politics. There is real truth to it, but it is so vague and accusatory that it's not a very constructive sentiment. If you agree that there are psychotropic drugs that are too dangerous for unrestricted distribution, then there will have to be an endeavor that you could call a drug war and that will never look like a ringing success. It doesn't look that way in any nation in the world. In any case, the drug war is not a monolith, and some parts of it have functioned passably well.

For instance, consider nicotine versus cocaine and heroin, where the policy mistakes have been in opposite directions. I do not see that we have done worse with the latter than with the former.

It seems pretty clear that locking addicts up in a facility where drugs are, in all likelihood, still readily available

I would be very surprised if the drugs are really equally available in prison. There are a lot more prison breaks in fictional prisons than in real ones, and I would bet more drugs and fights too. Many American prisons have blanket bans on cigarettes, for example. Prison doctors and prison janitors have strong evidence that they work.

Jails could be a different matter. Their is much less security expertise in jails than in prisons.

The whole world that David Simon and Ed Burns have created in The Wire disappears the minute drug legalization occurs.

Now that is just not true. The world of alcoholism is similar in some key ways, and outright worse in others.
I do not mean to brush aside any of the bleak message of The Wire, but I would still rather have illegal crack houses than learn that half of all child abuse involves crack.

Dylan Matthews

For instance, consider nicotine versus cocaine and heroin, where the policy mistakes have been in opposite directions. I do not see that we have done worse with the latter than with the former.
Really? Because I do. I think that the criminality associated with the cocaine and heroin industries, combined with the problems associated with addiction to those drugs, combines to make an evil far greater than that caused by nicotine. Regular cigarette smoking shaves a decade or so off your life, and makes the latter part of it hellish. Cocaine and heroin start that process a whole lot earlier, and fuel all kinds of violence, theft, etc.

I would be very surprised if the drugs are really equally available in prison. There are a lot more prison breaks in fictional prisons than in real ones, and I would bet more drugs and fights too. Many American prisons have blanket bans on cigarettes, for example. Prison doctors and prison janitors have strong evidence that they work.
I find that hard to believe; there's too much of an incentive for C.O.s to cooperate with the drug/cigarette trade. I googled around and couldn't find much, but this article, admittedly pretty dated, seems to suggest that there's an in-prison drug trade.

I do not mean to brush aside any of the bleak message of The Wire, but I would still rather have illegal crack houses than learn that half of all child abuse involves crack.
I don't think crack turns into alcohol the minute it's legalized. There's a huge difference in our cultural view of alcohol/tobacco and ours of cocaine and heroin, a difference that I don't think will vanish simply because of a change in laws. I'm sure both of us know people who smoke tobacco or marijuana and who drink, but I'm guessing neither of us knows anyone who shoots up or snorts coke regularly; I don't think that'll change if drugs are legalized.

Greg Kuperberg

Regular cigarette smoking shaves a decade or so off your life, and makes the latter part of it hellish. Cocaine and heroin start that process a whole lot earlier, and fuel all kinds of violence, theft, etc.

The quantitative measure of this is called YPLL -- years of potential life lost. The CDC estimates that the YPLL of nicotine is about 5 million years per year among Americans. I have not found a YPLL estimate for cocaine or heroin, but I would doubt that the YPLL is anywhere near that high, just because there aren't enough addicts.

this article, admittedly pretty dated, seems to suggest that there's an in-prison drug trade.

I'm sure that there is an in-prison drug "scene", as the article suggests. But it isn't half of the prison, unless prison guards who take drug bribes are inexplicably immune to escape bribes.

There's a huge difference in our cultural view of alcohol/tobacco and ours of cocaine and heroin

Sure, if two are legal and the other two aren't, that directly induces a colossal difference in our cultural view. When Coca-Cola was legally laced with cocaine, the Coca-Cola company was a lot like tobacco companies are today. It was the same outrageous campaign of sell and deny.

I'm sure both of us know people who smoke tobacco or marijuana and who drink, but I'm guessing neither of us knows anyone who shoots up or snorts coke regularly

This is now the opposite speculation from claiming that cocaine takes a bigger health toll than tobacco.

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