Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A lesson in prohibition

For a number of reasons I'm cross posting this from DetNews this afternoon.

At first glance this bust may seem like a success story in the war on some drugs. Sounds pretty impressive doesn't it. Thirty two people busted, $13 million in cash and millions in private property seized. Law enforcement estimates the group did $178 million in trade. So what did Detroit and society in general gain from this bust. Absolutely nothing.

Start first with the cost of a 16 month long investigation involving 19 different law enforcement agencies. How many millions of dollars do you think that cost? I don't have a clue but assuming a conservative 2 agents from each agency, and a mean salary of $50,000 a year that's almost 3 million in salaries alone. That doesn't account for the expenses. Gas and upkeep for their vehicles, weapons, significant travel expenses and probably at least some payoffs to informants. Pretty soon you're looking at spending as much or more to catch the guys as the bust was technically worth.

Add in the court costs to prosecute the defendants and the cost of incarceration and before you know it, the taxpayer is a hole. Some may point to the forfeiture assets as a setoff to those expenses but that money does not go to the general welfare. It's given to the law enforcement agencies that seize them in order to continue funding more busts that leave the taxpayer holding the bag.

What have you gained for your money. Safety? Don't count on it. It should be clear from this bust alone, that breaking a rival organization only led to the currently busted group becoming bigger, more powerful and more violent as they had more to protect as they grew. Believe me when I tell you, that this bust may reduce the supply of drugs temporarily but in a matter of weeks some other enterprising entrepreneurs will be filling in the gap left by this bust. There's simply too much money to be made not to tempt another player into the game and shutting down the supply does not quell the demand. If punishment worked, we wouldn't have almost 2 and half million people incarcerated in what has now become the biggest prison gulag in the world.

Consider also that without prohibition, the $178 million in trade would have generated business tax income instead of law enforcement outlays. The moral of the lesson being, the least efficient and most destructive method of dealing with illegal drug consumption is prohibition. It's time to cut our losses in this war and start applying some common sense by legalizing and employing the same model of law enforcement we use in the regulation of the legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

[hat tip to John French]


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