Sunday, May 03, 2009


Sunday Reflection: The trump card

Yesterday, I got a message from a very good journal saying that they wanted me to write a piece on "sentencing alternatives." I agreed immediately, and started pondering.

This morning, I had a great idea. I'm sure they are looking for small, manageable ideas, such as intensive supervision as an alternative to imprisonment. My idea was not like that.

Instead, I imagined two scenes occurring simultaneously. In the first, the doors to the prisons swing open to release many low-level drug defendants. The second scene is of a Predator drone flying low over hills in Mexico before releasing a missile, which destroys a car and the two men who are inside of it. These two scenes are inextricably linked;the first is possible because the second is accomplished.

The idea is that if we want to stop drug trafficking (and I do), sweeping up low-level operators does not work because they are so easily replaced. We use weight of drugs as a proxy for culpability, which is a terrible match and brings us mostly mules. A much better proxy is who makes the money off of the trafficking, because those with the most skills and power will get the most money. So, use the tactics we use against Al-Qaida against those people who profit the most from drug trafficking, most of whom are in foreign countries. Send a Predator in and kill them. Boom. Done. One killing on foreign soil would do more good than 1,000 arrests here. Foreign nations such as Mexico may well welcome this, as they are losing sovereignity now to drug traffickers. Plus, we are already doing this to counter known terrorists- the template is already established.

It is a strong, provocative idea. I won't write it, though. Much as I believe that such an operation would be both just and efficient, my faith tells me that killing people in this way is wrong. This is another form of the death penalty, and you know how I feel about that. It would fit my desires and politics better if I could propose this, but sometimes we must let our faith trump our politics. When we let the reverse be true, and politics drives our faith, we are nothing more than idolators who create a God in an image we desire, to be manipulated as our needs direct. It is hard and challenging to believe in a God that is bigger and smarter and more important than we are, but if He is not all of those things, is he a God at all?

There is a third option, which is allowing the people to obtain drugs legally, thus eliminating or greatly reducing the effect of the black market drug production. While it's not a perfect solution, I think that changing the supply will go a lot further than attempting to change the demand, which is pretty futile.

Right on! Our faith should drive our politics. When politics *become* our faith, we've lost.
The question is who is going to supply and set the price. It may still be cheaper to obtain the drugs in the black market.

I can't picture Pfizer or Merck setting the price LOW enough for the user to be able to afford the drugs (maybe I'm wrong but they like their profits). People get prescriptions from Canada because they are still cheaper than in the US with the various Medicare Drug plans.

The problem is that people have the need to take these substances in the first place for non-medically necesary reasons.
I still see no difference between substances, i.e drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. We don't consider the production and transportation and sale of wine, beer, liquor, cigarettes, or cigars illegal or consider it "trafficking." All of them can be extremely harmful . . . or not, as a matter of degree. Most, as Christine says, are taken for non-medical reasons (except for marijuana, in some cases). I think people should be able to put whatever they want to into their own bodies, as long as they're not hurting other people; whether it's cigarettes or whiskey or marijuana or heroin is immaterial to me.

I think it's incomprehensible that we allow the sale of guns, whose only purpose is to kill (either animals or humans), yet we make certain drugs illegal and cause a whole host of issues, and enormous expense.

True, it's a long way to imagine the US legalizing drugs, but it is a third option. And why not imagine a completely different solution?
And I don't mean to leave out the element of care in my opinion about substances. I just think that there are always going to be people who get addicted--to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling--or who overdo them, whether they are legal or not. There's evidence of this in countries where marijuana and heroin are legal--addicts still exist.

So why not direct money toward education about substances, toward care for those who get addicted; toward responsible use, rather than money on interdiction that's obviously not productive?
Swissgirl, that is the European model. It works.

I don't like drugs as much as the next guy, but let's be honest. Our puritanical stance on drugs as moral perversions is outmoded and quite frankly silly, especially considering that alcohol and tobacco are perfectly acceptable, even high-class, forms of recreation.

Legally, driving while intoxicated is driving while intoxicated. Doesn't matter the substance. As the Prof. points out, the "crime" in drug trafficking is how much are you carrying from point A to point B, which means we invariably pick up low-level operatives.

The cynic in me says that this is because it allows politicians to remove mostly-impoverished minority citizens from the voter registration rolls, but that's the cynic.

In reality, Justin's argument is the only logical one. Black markets don't exist where legal ones do. No one seeks to be a criminal businessman when he can be a legitimate one.

The problem then, as people are quick to point out, is that dangerous drugs become "readily available." I counter: they are already.

Anyone that wants to do drugs currently can, and probably does. The difference is that they must hide their drug use, where it becomes difficult to detect and attracts organized crime.

This model didn't work with the prohibition of alcohol, and it doesn't work with any other intoxicating substance. Let Budwiser and Marlboro market other forms of intoxicants, and people will either use them responsibly and never run afoul of the law, or they'll use them irresponsibly and be punished accordingly.
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