There’s one part that caught my attention and I wanted to discuss…
If I say that the drug war enriches criminals, I am suggesting that without the drug war the criminals would make less money. I have no illusion that organized crime would vanish, but at least theyâ€™d have fewer revenue streams, and riskier revenue streams. If they get money by selling drugs, the people that they get their money from will not call the cops. If they get their money by identity theft, somebody will most definitely call the cops. Even if they get their money by trafficking sex slaves, at the very least thereâ€™s a person who wants to call the cops, and now and then somebody will get away and call the cops. But nobody calls the cops to report â€œOfficer, that guy just sold me a joint.â€ (At least not before getting stoned. Once heâ€™s sufficiently stoned, well, I suppose anythingâ€™s possible.)
My friends, however, do not believe that legalization will have any effect on crime, or at least no significant effect in the long run. I think it requires a great deal of cynicism to believe that organized crime will not be hurt at all if a major revenue stream is eliminated.
The problem with Thoreau’s friends (and a lot of other people out there) is that they have this bizarre and mistaken notion that there is an identifiable and discrete subset of the population that are “criminals,” and that this subset is apparently automatically refilled naturally. Perhaps at birth, these individuals are marked with an X on their foreheads showing that they are unable to do anything in society except criminal enterprises. In such a society, removing a huge source of criminal revenue might not make a big dent in crime.
However, our society is not so black and white. All of us are criminals in one way or another (who hasn’t broken some law somewhere, perhaps even unknowing?). And while circumstances of birth can, in some instances, increase the likelihood that someone may end up involved in criminal enterprises, there is no X on the forehead.
The truth is that prohibition creates criminals. Not all of them, but a lot.
Here’s a scenario that repeats every day in this country…
A young person helps out his friends by picking up pot for them when he’s getting his. No big deal. He knows it’s illegal, but it’s not like he’s hurting anyone. Soon he starts getting a few bucks doing this and that’s really helping out. The money is better than McDonald’s, so he starts doing this full time. Nothing serious, mostly pot. No violence.
One of his customers gets caught with some pot and rolls on this dealer. He’s able to get by with probation, but hates giving up the pot sales — plus, most of his friends now expect that he’ll be able to hook them up. So he gets caught again and does some time.
Now, he’s an ex-con with most of his contacts being criminals. Can’t get a lot of legitimate jobs, and there’s a real demand in something that he knows well. Run-ins with the law have hardened him and he’s maybe willing to do some things that he wouldn’t have before….
You see where this is heading….
Long term, the absence of a black market in drugs simply means that new people aren’t being recruited into the business.
The same factor is at work in the larger, more violent, markets. The cartel heads in Mexico may be the worst of the worst, and it’s reasonable to assume that they won’t go into working fast food, but the money they get from the black market allows them to hire complete armies of people from foot soldiers to government officials. There’s a huge infusion of capital that’s on the criminal side of the market, instead of the alternate: a huge infusion of capital on the lawful side of the market. When people need jobs, they’ll go to where the money is.
Long term, there’s no doubt that legalization will lead to a reduction in criminality.