Would Legalizing Drugs Reduce or Increase Crime?

I don’t believe we necessarily can prove the answer to this question, but a recent CNN article written by Adam Reiss, Health clinic helps addicts shoot up, talks about a program in Canada:

Inside the Vancouver facility, I found more than a dozen people taking illegal drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, under the watchful eye of trained nurses. These drug users were among the more than 700 people who visit the facility every day, bringing their drugs with them.

Insite's goal is to reduce the risk of overdose and limit the spread of diseases like HIV by giving addicts…

Defenders of the Vancouver clinic say more than two dozen peer-reviewed studies have shown its benefits. One study found a 45 percent reduction in public drug use as a result of the clinic; another showed 33 percent of addicts are more likely to go to detox after using Insite.

Dr. Thomas Kerr, a University of British Columbia research scientist who has studied the program, believes Insite benefits the wider community.

"In the absence of such a facility, not only would [drug users] be high out on the street, but they would be leaving their syringes in school yeards, in parks and on city streets," Kerr said.

Just a week or so ago, I was having a conversation with a fellow Austin criminal defense attorney about whether ‘decriminalization/legalization’ would reduce or increase crime.

Like me, he is strongly against our current Drug War policies, especially when it comes to imprisoning and using felony enhancement provisions in the Penal Code for drug possession cases – creating ridiculously long sentences, sometimes 25 years to life.

However, he argued that even heavily regulated but legal use of cocaine and heroin would automatically increase drug use itself, and also other crimes – mostly property crimes.

I’m going to go see if I can get my hands on those peer reviewed studies the article cites, and I’ll report back on this later.

My gut instinct is that crime would be reduced, but it’s not the part of my regular anti-Drug War speech; something I need to look into. (And there are plenty of other reasons to oppose out current policies.)

Update: Pete at DrugWarRant responds.

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
http://blog.austindefense.com/admin/trackback/50498
Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Pat - November 1, 2007 9:16 PM

Hi Jamie:

These are topics that I have thought about a lot over the years. Specifically your friend's contentions that:

"..even heavily regulated but legal use of cocaine and heroin would automatically increase drug use itself, and also other crimes – mostly property crimes."

I believe that the reason that addictive drugs proliferate as they do is because of their illegal status. People who become addicted and then deal to support their high need to grow a market in order to make their high. Regulation would reduce this population. The Swiss experiments validate this. One of the requirements to enter that program is that users stop depending on crime for economic sustenance. Including drug dealing. The result is that the local addict population is now static and not growing. So the crime of drug dealing is reduced and the marketers are no longer marketing.

A quick aside.

I see local interdiction as the cause of increases in crime. Its the economics of addiction. In this poly-drug multi-source world there are always alternatives even if that means short term pice increases. When the police succeed in busting a significant supply of an addictive substance in a community they force the price up for a time. Addicts, who deal to support their high, do two things. 1. They raise their price and lower their quality to their existing customer base. 2. They, like any small business with an inventory problem, seek out more customers in order to keep their cash flow constant and help absorb a price increase or quality change.

The customers in the first instance include local thugs, robbers, burglars, prostitutes. These customers simply pass any price increase on to their crime victims in the form of more crime and more aggressive crime to targets of greater value.

The customers in the second group are casual users enticed into becoming new addicts.

As I see it the real outcome then of successful interdiction is more crime and addiction.

This is born out somewhat in the economics study of Nov. 2003 "Drug Enforcement and Crime, Recent Evidence From New York State" by Edward M. Shepard and Paul Blackley of LeMoyne College. I put the report pdf on my server if you want it. "Increases in arrests for selling illegal non-marijuana drugs (HARDSALE) are associated with higher violent and property crime rates for all offenses considered."

And:
"Increases in arrest rates for the possession of non-marijuana drugs (HARDPOSS) are associated with higher rates of robbery, burglary, and larceny."

The crime reduction issue has two components, short and long term. Remember, there are three generations of population that has been criminalized since Nixon started this mess. It will not be cleaned up overnight. As with the alcohol prohibition, that lasted only 13-years, it will take years to fix this mess.

Short term there will be a significant reduction in drug dealing crime which will free up massive law enforcement and judicial resources.

But long term the criminalized population, a large portion of the 16 million "felon caste" of Americans that the New York Times refers to in their January editorial "Closing the Revolving Door" have no economic alternative. Not now and not in the decriminalized future. The congress has just finally started talking about this population in the recent Joint Economic Committee hearing in congress last month that you have written about, "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?"

There will need to be programs and systems to re-integrate this population into society economically if not socially.

Whenever the issue of large interdictions come up in my community I write letters to politicians and the media reminding them that much of the street crime is committed by a small group of hard core addicts who need to support habits often worth $ 75-300 a day. And that any interdiction related price increase will result in more crime from this small population. The best way to respond to this cause and effect situation is to increase indigent drug rehab in the community to give as many of this population as possible some alternatives. As the Swiss experiments demonstrate getting as many as possible of this population off the street is the best way to reduce street crime.

Finally, I don't think we can talk only about the transitional crime issue without talking about distribution models as well. I wrote a piece just today about this. How To Successfully End The War On Drugs Now

The non-using population will not change the policy until their fears are addressed. Crime and increasing addiction are the two legitimate fears. Regulation would get the distribution out of the hands of addicts and gangsters and give it over to the morals and ethics of responsible licensed members of the community. Regulation will reduce drug sales crime to a degree that huge criminal justice resources will be freed up to better confront real violent and large scale economic crime.

The lynchpin in all of this is altering the perception of addicts as a source of crime to that of victims of 1. the genetic based disease of addiction and 2. the economics of prohibition.

Michael Simpson - November 1, 2007 9:32 PM

If drug usage is legalized (but regulated, like tobacco or alcohol), we should see a reduction in property crime over time as the price falls, at first because cheaper drugs would be available, and later because demand would fall when the profit motive falls out for pushers, who then discontinue recruiting new addicts.

Pat - November 2, 2007 8:30 AM

It will take time to absorb millions of people back into the legitimate economy who are locked out of it by drug criminalization. Take away their drug black market economic viability and they will look elsewhere for sustenance.

As long as the drug war continues we are continuing to grow this population that the government has been growing since 1972. There are no social programs to re-integrate these people back into the economy.

This is the greatest social disaster in the history of America. Ending the drug war will bring the effects of this self-perpetuating Jim Crow inspired economic warfare to light. It will not be pretty if and when it ever happens.

AJ - January 30, 2008 10:01 PM

(a random tangent,on and off topic))

If tommorow there was a ballot that said "Would you like the world to be void of drugs like heroine, meth, and cocaine"

I would say NO, not because I honestly don't wan't those drugs gone. But because I fear what we would have to do to achieve this goal..

Say goodbye to our fourth amendment rights. Possibly even our 2nd and first amendment rights.. It probably would be argued that we can't have people underhanding the efforts by talking against it. Or we can't have citizens with guns, in order to keep our police safe...

Short: the world void of hard/dangerous drugs,would be nice. But would you wan't to live in the society while they are trying to achieve that goal?

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.







Remember personal info?