Friday, May 31, 2013

The Drug War Graph Is Embarrassing. So Is Believing Obama's Promises of Reform.

The Drug War Graph Is Embarrassing. So Is Believing Obama's Promises of Reform.:
Washington Post blogger Harold
Pollack
presents
what he calls "the most embarrassing graph in American
policy," showing that the mass incaraceration of drug offenders
since the early 1980s has been accompanied by declines in the
retail prices of cocaine and heroin. That's embarrassing because
drug law enforcement aims to reduce consumption of illegal drugs by
increasing the risk and cost of supplying them, an effort that if
successful should be reflected in rising retail prices. Instead we
have seen just the opposite during the last few decades as the
number of drug offenders behind bars has increased dramatically,
peaking at 562,000 in 2007.
The ineffectiveness of supply-control measures is rooted in the
economics of the black market. Illegal drugs acquire most of their
value after arriving in the United States. Attempts to destroy drug
crops or intercept shipments on their way to the U.S. therefore do
not cost traffickers much and do not have much of an impact on
retail prices. Nor does busting drug dealers in the U.S. and
seizing the relatively small quantities they are apt to be holding.
Both the dealers and the drugs are easily replaced. And to the
extent that police succeed over the short term in raising prices by
raising the risks involved in selling drugs, they also raise the
returns from the business, attracting new participants and boosting
the supply. A study cited by Pollack suggests how these dynamics
conspire to frustrate drug warriors:
Examining a period when cocaine prices were actually plummeting,
these authors estimated that a 15-fold
increase
 in the number of incarcerated drug offenders
raised street cocaine prices in the range of 5 percent to 15
percent, compared with what otherwise would have been the
case. That's not much.
Joining an assortment of drug-war critics who accept at
face value the current president's avowed commitment to changing
course, Pollack claims "drug policy has improved during the Obama
years." You know his case is weak when you see that his first
reason for believing this is that "the president and his key drug
policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs
rhetoric of previous administrations." Obama may be
allowing
thousands of federal drug offenders whose sentences he
admits are unjust to languish in prison, but at least he does not
call the crackdown that put them there a "war." His actual
policy
regarding medical marijuana may be more aggressively
intolerant than his predecessor's, despite promises to the
contrary, but at least his rhetoric is milder. He may
defend
marijuana's rationally indefensible Schedule I status,
but at least he claims to be doing so in the name of science.
Pollack also notes that "the number of incarcerated drug
offenders has declined for the first time in decades." But
according to the figures displayed in the graph, the number of drug
offenders behind bars (in prisons and jails) peaked in 2007, two
years before Obama took office. Furthermore, state prisons account
for most incarcerated drug offenders. The number of drug offenders
in federal prison increased from 95,205 in
2009
to 97,472 in
2010
 before falling to 94,600 in 2011, the most
recent year for which data are available. Yay?
Finally, Pollack praises Obama for expanding access to drug
treatment through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Thus does Obama gain credibility as a drug policy reformer by
taking a page from Richard
Nixon's playbook
.