Matt Simon: Drug gangs will plague Manchester as long as drugs are illegal

From the New Hampshire Union-Leader, Nov. 26, 2007:

The 24 "Operation DAG" drug arrests announced recently by Manchester Police Chief John Jaskolka might have made the city a trifle safer for a few days, but any positive effects from such crackdowns don't last. Even if all 24 of those arrested were truly drug dealers, which is very unlikely, the busts simply created 24 job openings which by now have probably been filled.

Of course, Manchester residents are right to be concerned about the very real problems of drug abuse and drug addiction. But although it may feel good to celebrate what looks to be progress, scapegoating of drug peddlers can distract us from seeing the entire picture.

What we don't see is that the harms caused by drug abuse are fundamentally separate from the harms caused by prohibition policy. Many of the effects that we typically blame on drugs -- the rise of gangs, the violence in our streets, and the trend towards more dangerous drugs -- are truly the result of a policy which guarantees these terrible effects will occur.

It begins with the fact that we're making all the wrong people rich. People ask, where did all these thuggish drug dealers come from? The answer is that they are an inevitable product of a drug policy that guarantees outrageously high profits.

Think about it this way. If you live in a town where there are five restaurants, and two of them are simultaneously shut down by the board of health, never to reopen, it's easy to see that entrepreneurs would have a much stronger incentive to open a restaurant in your town. This is because demand has not changed. The same number of people still want to eat, and food is certainly addictive. Plus, if restaurants are being shut down left and right, only large, corporate restaurant chains can withstand the financial risks associated with feeding the population.

This, unfortunately, leads to the very reason we talk about drug gangs and New Hampshire in the same sentence. It boils down to simple economics.

When you drive up prices, you drive up profits, and higher profits are what turn certain neighborhoods of our cities into war zones. Hard drug addicts begin stealing to support their habits. Simultaneously, the neighborhood pot dealers get busted, and they are quickly replaced with cartel-connected go-getters from out of town. These well-armed individuals introduce substances which are far more dangerous than marijuana, and they occasionally have to battle each other over business disputes. And then we wonder why our culture is degrading, and politicians go through another phase of "getting tough" on drugs.

Instead of tough, when are we going to get smart?

Demand for drugs has remained fairly constant over the last 100 years, but today, our laws prevent physicians from properly treating addiction as a medical problem.

There are many policy alternatives that should be discussed with regard to hard drugs, and we should certainly be smart about the way we end the prohibition of marijuana, but today what's imperative is that we not only observe but truly comprehend the actual consequences of wasting tax dollars on efforts such as "Operation DAG" when the real solutions lie in a fundamentally different approach.

Killing ants with a hammer only seems to make sense until you start noticing what you've done to the sidewalk.

Matt Simon is executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.


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