The Perverse Incentives of Prohibition

Back in December I wrote about Annie D., a former state crime-lab chemist,  who had been recently caught and sentenced for tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice and inflating her credentials in 27 crimes to which she pleaded guilty in Massachusetts last month. She worked at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health where as a chemist her job was to analyze drugs seized in drug arrests.  She labored on behalf of “justice” for about nine years, ending in 2012.  Thousands of drug related convictions were suddenly in question and needed review.

Now an event has happened in Florida, where the Department of Law Enforcement reported it has to review thousands of drug related cases because one of its chemists appears to have pilfered pills in his hands for analysis by substituting over-the-counter pills for the pain pills in the bottles in his charge.

The irony is not missed on most of us.  A deeply flawed drug prohibition policy that tries to stamp out drug use with criminal prosecution is fostering criminal activity on the part of those it employs to help in enforcing the policy.   Making something people want criminal to have creates a variety of perverse incentives. As we often say: “duh!”

These are just two incidents in which the cost of the corruption promoted by our war on drugs reaches into staggering sums of taxpayer dollars.  After spending millions on prosecutions of drug related offenses the two states involved must now spend millions on reviewing and either re-prosecuting or dismissing them, plus potentially pay millions more in civil damages for the mistakes made.

That similar boondoggles have and will plague other states is a near certainty.  Reported cases of police corruption and the nefarious drug dealings of mayors, legislators, judges, and others are legion.  Thinking people have to ask the question: how much more of all this nonsense must we as taxpayers and caring civilians tolerate before we conclude that prohibition was a mistake and that it is time to clean up the mess created in our war on drugs.

As my readers know, I do not favor outright legalization, for though that would kill off the illicit drug trade, it does not answer the question of how we protect the kids.  President Obama is wrong in saying that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol when it comes to use by the under 18 crowd.  Studies show that for them it is a highly dangerous drug and steps must be taken to keep it out of their hands.  We would have learned that long ago had we not driven marijuana use underground with prohibition.  I argue that now we must adopt an elaborate system that tolerates adult drug use but enforces controls against use by minors.

This system is detailed in my book, KILL THE DRUG TRADE: Ending the War on Drugs in a System of Toleration, Counseling and Control.  The book is available on-line at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in book form and in the Kindle form at Amazon. Amazon provides a “look inside” feature. You can also preview it at the Reform Drug Policy Project website.

Please let me hear from you via a comment.

© Rights reserved.  Dave Finch  February 3, 2014


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1 Comment

  1. Congrats on your book. I saw it at my parents’ apartment and it looks great. Today would be a good day for some extra press, considering the tragic news about Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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