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Just who are these criminals of whom you speak?

Transform got a leaked copy of a restricted media briefing — the spin that the U.K. Home Office will be using to defend their drug strategy. It’s the standard litany of drug warrior fact-free propaganda talking points, aimed at “answering” any opposition. Transform does a nice job of fisking it.
There’s one point in particular that I’d like to highlight.
The home office anticipates the following question:

Q: Wouldn‰t legalisation surely reduce drug related crime?

And part of their prepared answer is:

The legalisation of drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by organised career criminals; such criminals would simply seek new sources of illicit revenue through crime.

I’ve heard this kind of argument before — mostly from morons on messageboards. This, however, is from a major world government. (And note the blatantly obvious switch from “reduce” in the question to “eliminate” in the answer.)
Transform takes it on:

Obviously it is ridiculous to imagine they will all ëgo straight‰ and get jobs in McDonalds, or selling flowers, but it is equally absurd to suggest they will all embark on some previously unimagined crime spree. […] it is impossible to imagine that there is enough criminal opportunity to absorb the manpower currently operating an illicit drugs market with a turns over somewhere in the region of Ł300 billion pounds a year globally, or over Ł10 billion a year in the UK alone. Even if there is some diversion into other criminal activity, the big picture will undoubtedly show a significant net fall in overall criminal activity. Getting rid of illegal drug markets is about reducing opportunities for crime.
This concern is a curious one because it seems, when considered closely, to be advocating prohibition as a way of maintaining illegal drug empires so that organised criminals don‰t have to change jobs. [emphasis added]

Exactly.
You see, the real stupidity in such a statement is the implied assumption that there are a specific, finite number of “career criminals” in the world and all they are capable of doing is pursuing criminal activity. In such a fantasy word, if we were able to lock up all of those specific individuals, there would be no crime. However, in fact it is a matter of degree, relative values, and opportunity.
We’re all criminals. Especially today. Everyone has broken a law, whether it’s the speed limit or one of the millions of laws on the books that nobody can even keep track of. That doesn’t mean that everyone is bad. Some people would break the speed limit, but draw the line at selling drugs. Someone else would sell drugs, but not get involved in violent crime. Someone else might reach a point of desperation and do things that others wouldn’t. Someone else has a warped morality and will even kill people in order to further a particular goal.
It is prohibition and its enforcement that fuels criminal activity, actually expanding the number of so-called “career criminals.”
The huge profits of the black market become irresistible incentives to move up the criminal ladder for many people. Someone who, in another world, might settle for working a job in a factory, can be enticed into criminal enterprises by the lure of riches, and drug dealing is an easier step because of the consensual nature of the transaction. The process is sped up by enforcement. Each arrest of a dealer is the advertisement of a lucrative job opening.
Start with one drug dealer. Arrest him and put him in jail. What happens is someone else steps up to take the high paying job. Now you have two drug dealers (one on the street and one in jail). Arrest the second one and a third steps up. Even if you never release the ones you’ve arrested and you keep arresting, you’ll never get “ahead.” But eventually, you’ll end up releasing those arrested and you’ll have a glut of dealers, all created by prohibition.
Under legalization, the criminal recruitment never happens, so there’s no growth or replacement due to black market drug demand. Those already in the game suddenly find their vast incomes drying up. Let’s say one of them decides to go in for bank robbery instead of finding legit work. Now you’ve got a non-consensual transaction with the bank eagerly helping the police to catch the criminal, the police no longer bogged down by drug arrests, and when the bank robber is caught, there’s nobody waiting in line for his job.
Legalization means both a reduction of those in prison and a reduction in crime.
Which reminds me of a particularly disturbing statement I saw this weekend (via Hit and Run)
National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru reacts to the news about the fact that we lead the world in incarceration this way:

It’s too bad we have such a high rate of criminality–but given that we do, I’m glad we have been putting more people behind bars over the last generation. […] when I see a headline about a record incarceration rate, I’m glad. Aren’t you?

This ignorance is the face of the modern conservative movement.