Peter Moskos and Stanford Franklin make many good points in their op-ed brief for drug legalization, but this is a silly argument: “If prohibition decreased drug use and drug arrests acted as a deterrent, America would not lead the world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes.” That just doesn’t follow logically. What’s more, the actual evidence from the alcohol prohibition era indicates that common sense is about right: making booze illegal caused less booze to be consumed, and the strength of the effect was related to the vigor with which the rules were enforced.
But that’s not to say that making alcohol illegal was a good idea and I certainly don’t think that handing out jail sentences for marijuana possession makes a great deal of sense. But in terms of hard drugs, I think that what Moskos and Franklin are mostly doing is marshaling the evidence for a dramatic change in police priorities rather than legalization of drugs as such. Tactics like the High Point Initiative appear to work as ways of shutting down overt drug markets. If a city can do that in its most problematic areas, the best thing to do seems to me to be to have its police . . . move on to worrying about something else. If people are selling drugs in a manner that’s not a nuisance for their neighbors and doesn’t involve violence, why not turn a blind eye? The knowledge that drug dealers who aren’t making problems for others will be left alone should encourage people to try to find less destructive business models. That’s still a far cry from saying that there should be heroin at the corner store, while CrackCo International hires the top marketing minds and lobbyists in the country to dream up exciting new ways of turning kids into addicts.