More Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses or drug-related probation and parole violations than for property crimes. And although America spends five times more jailing drug dealers than it did 30 years ago, the prices of cocaine and heroin are 80 to 90 percent lower than 30 years ago.Mexico seems in danger of becoming a state run by and for drug barons, and that alone ought to make us rethink our drug policies. Every dealer rotting in our prisons is another good reason.
In “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know,” policy analysts Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken argue that imprisoning low-ranking street-corner dealers is pointless: A $200 transaction can cost society $100,000 for a three-year sentence. And imprisoning large numbers of dealers produces an army of people who, emerging from prison with blighted employment prospects, can only deal drugs. Which is why, although a few years ago Washington, D.C., dealers earned an average of $30 an hour, today they earn less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25).
I support legalizing marijuana tomorrow, but as Will points out, that is only 20 percent of the illegal drug trade, and an even smaller part of the drug lords' business. To break the cartels, we would have to legalize heroin and cocaine. But how can a society that bans fen/phen do that? Whenever the Mexican carnage makes me contemplate legalization, I run up against this wall: how can a society so devoted to safety for its children, where new chemical compounds are banned every week, allow such deadly drugs to be sold? I don't have an answer.