The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently held the 2009 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna (nice work if you can get it) and they published a whole host of reports to go with it. I checked out two of them: “Organized Crime and its threat to Security” and “World situation with regard to drug trafficking“.
The Organized Crime paper is interesting. So interesting in fact that if all government documents were written like this I might stop reading books. The frustration of the author(s) is palpable over the lack of rational governmental policy regarding narcotics production and distribution. Page after page you can feel the author(s) struggling with their desire to slap some people around. Their solution is rooted in both common sense in unrealism.
“…a number of countries now face a crime situation largely caused by their own choice. This is bad enough. Worse is the fact that, quite often their vulnerable neighbours pay an even greater price.” [italic in original]
Yeah…can you see any politician running for office in the U.S. on this idea? Hillary Clinton made huge headlines for stating the obvious just a few weeks ago. Are we really prepared to take a good, long look in the mirror?
Why do states abandon masses of unemployed, illiterate youth that face no other option than a day of money, notoriety and death as foot soldiers in rag-tag armies of mafias and rebels? [italics original]
The challenge is to re-integrate marginalized segments of society and draw them into, rather than push them out of the law.
Uh oh…that’s starting to sound a little to bleeding heart to be good. What a good time to mention Jim Webb’s prison reform bill:
We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.
Back to the U.N. report.
The author(s) take a very strong position against any sort of drug legalization, arguing that it “would be a cynical resignation of the state’s responsibility to protect the health of its citizens and tantamount to accepting that a portion of every generation will be lost to addiction.”
Unfortunately, the authors don’t explain how they came to draw their line in the sand where they did, allowing tobacco and alcohol to be acceptable. In fact, their paper, perhaps unintentionally, makes a decent case for the legalization for marijuana and continued illegal status for other drugs. In fact, I’d recommend reading it from both perspectives.
While other drugs require specific production processes which can create distribution chokepoints vulnerable to interdiction, “cannabis requires very little attention and grows virtually anywhere…[so] farmers can be difficult to deter since they invest so little in its cultivation.” In fact, cannabis cultivation is so difficult to deter that its ease of production makes it unattractive to ‘high level criminals’ outside of Canada, Mexico, Morocco, Paragua, and Afghanistan.
The authors do tip a really big hat to the idea of a comprehensive approach to the narcotics problem:
Arrests and seizures are necessary, but insufficient. The principle behind them is to incapacitate offenders and to deter potential ones. But this is fruitless when social conditions continue to generate whole new classes of people with strong incentives to offend. Those willing to risk death by ingesting a kilogram of condom-wrapped cocaine pellets (for a few thousands dollars), are not put off by the risk of jail.
As they later note, however, that sort of thinking just isn’t popular in most places where everyone wants to be seen as the heir to the ‘Dirty Harry’ empire and be seen as ‘tough on crime’.
I can’t tell if the authors are tilting at windmills here or see some reason for optimism. Their recommendations are interesting and one about applying the lessons of tabacco reduction are a big reason why, respite what they write, I suspect there may have been some closet legalization fans among them. After all, if you’re going to recommend a successful program for reducing the supply and demand of an addicting drug, why highlight the one which is univesally legal and so subject to the full weight of governmental and social controls if you’re a prohibitionist.