The US Department of Agriculture will spend 145 billion dollars in 2012. Most of this money goes to price support programs that raise the cost of food and divert farm production away from almonds and peaches and into corn syrup. Other programs buy food for the poor, who can’t afford food for their children because of the price-support programs. A few billion goes to various road-building and deforestation projects on public lands that damage the environment and raise the cost of plywood.
We may think that blowing $145 billion on corporate welfare for Archer Daniels Midland et al is a bit irresponsible during a Great Recession. However, there is an even bigger and more costly government price support program left over from Richard Nixon’s time: the Drug War. The New Hampshire house has introduced two bills that would go a long way toward ending price supports for marijuana: HB 1526 and 1527. HB 1526 will unclog our courts and jails by decriminalizing marijuana possession. HB 1527 will remove cultivation of marijuana from the Controlled Drugs Act.
History of the Marijuana Price Support Program
Marijuana price supports have a very short history, as government functions go. There were no US price supports for drugs of any kind until the Harrison Act (passed December 17 1914, took effect April 1915). The Harrison Act specifically reserved the rights of physicians to prescribe opiates. Within months this had been “interpreted” to mean the right to imprison physicians for prescribing opiates. The courts allowed this progression down into legal Wonderland, and the Federal government had its precedent. Now they claim to own and regulate the bloodstreams of all Americans, a power that King George III would have thought bizarrely totalitarian even for an absolute monarch.
More widely felt in the 1920s was the Ethanol Price Support Program (‘Prohibition”), Amendment XVIII, passed in 1919. While the EPSP had some of the same effects as the Drug War (more murders, more deaths from wood alcohol contamination, etc.), it was less destructive. Alcohol Prohibition operated within the US legal system, and thus died ignominiously in 1933 when the Constitutional Amendment was repealed.
A “Drug Prohibition Amendment” was never passed. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the other informal tribal traditions of the Drug War simply asserted their own legitimacy, with no appeal to Constitutional authority. In fact, many government agencies draw the authority for their actions from their alleged usefulness to the Drug War, rather than from any obsolete Constitutional precedents. The invasion of Panama, foreign aid to the Taliban regime and other dictatorships, etc., derived their moral authority from the Drug War itself.
The Conspiracy Theory of Marijuana Price Supports
Some in the media promote a conspiracy theory of the Drug War. Their claim is that the Congress, CIA, DEA, etc. (all groups noted for their altruism and concern for the common man) are engaged in a massive conspiracy to promote public health by raising the cost and lowering the quality and safety of certain drugs. Like most conspiracy theories involving invisible lizard aliens who work to help humanity, it is somewhat nondisprovable. However, we can disprove the notion that raising the cost of drugs to users is good for them (or for the taxpayer).
There have been many controlled experiments in this field. Take the previously mentioned case of US alcohol Prohibition. Deaths from adulterated alcohol soared during Prohibition, then went back down after repeal. Murder rates also went up, as did the economic cost of providing alcohol. Alcoholism rates were not affected. Then to add insult to injury, large well-controlled medical studies proved that moderate alcohol consumption, especially of red wine, is an important component of cardiac health. So it’s a good thing that Prohibition failed so completely, or millions would have suffered early heart attacks.
Another controlled experiment was Canada’s attempt to put a $5 tax on cigarettes. Mass smuggling began immediately through the Mohawk Nation, with the usual murders and mayhem. Did Canadians quit smoking because their nicotine cost more? Did anyone expect them to? Of course not. New York has tried the same prohibitive taxes many times, most recently under Mayor Bloomberg, with similar consequences.
The same story is repeated with opiates and cocaine. Before the Harrison Act, Americans used cocaine and opiates. Just like Rush Limbaugh, most of them used their drugs to overcome the various pains of life, while continuing to hold down their jobs and live their lives. Cheap (and diluted and standardized) heroin and cocaine didn’t cause financial havoc for the users. And of course, most people weren’t affected… because they didn’t touch the stuff. Abstinence was boosted by the fact that pharmacists didn’t sneak into junior high schools and push their wares.
Death rates from illegal drugs are less than precise. Still, it is clear that hundreds of thousands of people die from tobacco use yearly, while deaths from all illegal drugs are estimated to be in the neighborhood of 5,000. Deaths from alcoholism and alcohol/drug interactions are in the tens of thousands; overdose deaths from marijuana (a drug with some substitution potential for alcohol users) are zero (0).
The final nail in the coffin of the benevolent-conspiracy theory is this: it is forbidden to sell safer alternative recreational drugs. The pharmaceutical companies are quite capable of providing drugs that mimic alcohol, nicotine, or whatever you want with fewer side effects. In fact, there is an alcohol mimic that has a “sober-up pill” to go with it; anyone concerned about the safety of children on the highways would have to see this as a positive social good. But there is no FDA approval category for “recreational drug”.
HB 1526 and 1527: End Prohibition, Boost Prosperity
Back in 2010, Fox News reported that the drug war had cost a trillion dollars over the last 40 years. It hasn’t gotten any cheaper.
Spending law enforcement time and money to chase marijuana users costs money. Building prisons costs money. Forcing the users to buy from illegal overseas sources costs money. Locking up one of our neighbors costs the state about $32,000 per year, according to the NH Dept. of Corrections. The loss of that person’s productivity from the economy costs money. The disruption of their family costs money. The loss of state tax revenues on marijuana costs money.
Internationally, terrorism costs money. Every half-baked dictator can fund his lifestyle with illegal drug sales. From the Taliban to the FARC in Colombia, US-designated “terrorist” groups make money from the US drug trade. Mexican drug cartels have risen nearly to the status of minor governments; they killed 20,000 people over the last four years. If marijuana cost no more than tobacco (as would be the case in a free market), all these petty warlords would be out of business.
I don’t use marijuana (or tobacco, or vodka). But that’s not the point. The point is that Prohibition is illegal under the Constitution, immoral under the Golden Rule, and impractical in a free economy. Don’t we have enough economic problems already? Call or email your state representative, and tell him or her that we have more important things to do than enforce Richard Nixon’s anti-minority drug laws. Support HB 1526 and 1527.