05/24/09 - Jeffrey Miron

Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron, author of "Drug War Crimes - The Consequences of Prohibition" + DASH Award

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Guest: 
Jeffrey Miron
Organization: 
Harvard Profesor
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Century of Lies, May 24, 2009
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Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.

It’s left a trail of graft and slime
It don’t prohibit worth a dime
It’s filled our land with vice and crime,
Nevertheless we’re for it!

Franklin P. Adams 1931
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The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.
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Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Here in just a moment we are going to have Harvard Professor, Jeffrey Miron. The man you’ve seen on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, all those new’s programs debating the former US Drug Czar, John Walters and he’s in all the papers, he’s in all the internet sites. Jeffrey Miron, a very noted Harvard Professor.

We have on our website a couple of offers, if you will, cash money, we’re willing to make to people who can stand in support of this drug war and just this past week we had another entry for the ’DASH’ award and I’d like to share that with you. As I said, here in a little bit, we’ll be back with Jeffrey Miron, but first this, about the DASH award.

The Drug Truth Network has two cash awards available on our website. The first is the DOT award, named after my deceased mother Dorothy, for any politician or cop willing to come on our show and defend the drug war. The other is the DASH award, named after my just recently deceased father Darrel, and it’s for any person on the planet willing to defend this policy of drug war.

We’ve never gotten an actual entry, but we have gotten the following facetious response, from Mr. Andrew Bairnsfather. Andrew did not meet the requirements for this award, but because he runs christiansagainstprohibition.org and mostly because I wanted to once again honor my father, the man who worked with the prison ministry and who funded drug reform conferences. Once again, “This is for you, Dad.”
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Mr. Andrew Bairnsfather: Why is the drug war a positive for our society? It’s a stain. A sense of distrust and suspicion among citizens. It gives non drug users, the ability to look down their noses. It provides jobs for teens, since adults took all the other jobs. The drug war ensures casket vendors never run out of business.

The drug war creates billions of dollars of untaxed revenue. The drug war sends tons of money to poor countries. The drug war causes traffickers to think creatively and use science. The drug war has introduced some foreigners to the wonders of our natural parks. The war on drugs hastens societies phoenix like crash and rebirth.
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Dean Becker: I’ve already sent a check for one hundred dollars to Andrew Bairnsfather for his entry and I want to thank DASH, once again.
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Yep, my dad was quite a guy, quite a guy. I hope you have an agreement frame, with your dad, with your parents, with your kids about this drug war. Hope you’ve been able to open the discussion. Hoping you’ve been able to examine this truth and to come to an agreement that it makes no sense, as it’s currently set up.

We need to work together. We need to bring it to an end and that’s what I do. There are a few thousand of us, here in America, doing that full time, if you will. But, we really need you. We need you and your parents, your kids to speak up, to educate yourself a little further. To gain the confidence to speak that truth and to help bring this to an end.

We’re trying to get Jeffrey Miron on line here. We’re having a little bit of difficulty but, it’s going to be worth it, I’m sure. Jeffrey’s written a great book: “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition” and it talks about, well, the failing’s and the failing are myriad. The failing’s are eternal, unless we stop this. The failing’s reach into every neighborhood in America to into every country around this world. It’s time for us to ‘do our part‘.

I’ve been doing this show for over seven and a half years, now. I think I’ve done my part. I think I can do more and I will do more. But what I’m saying is, having done all that, hasn’t accomplished much. Not yet. Not until you, people of this community, this state, this nation, take it upon themselves to pick up this mantle, to carry it, to do their part. You know? Till you participate, it’s going to continue. ’Cause they can ignore me, as they do.

We have invited the new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, former Seattle Police Chief and now the drug czar to be our guest here, but I’m not holding my breath. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.

Do we have Jeffrey with us? With that then, let’s go ahead and welcome Harvard Professor, Jeffrey Miron. Hello, Sir.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Hi. How are you? Thank you for having me.

Dean Becker: Well, thank you, Jeffrey. Glad you could be with us. Sir, I see your name and your image all over the place. MSNBC, CBS, you’re debating the Drug Czar, you’re having op-ed’s published and just all over he internet, as well. Tell us a little bit about what motivates you, Jeffrey?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: My motivation is just thinking about the intended and unintended consequences are of trying to regulate private behavior, like drug use. I think that the intentions of the people who want to outlaw drug use are, in many cases, understandable. They want to prevent people from misusing drugs and either harming themselves or others.

But my position is that, outlawing it is an incredibly ineffective way to accomplish that. With other things that are potentially risky, like alcohol and tobacco, we make them legal but, we try to regulate or prevent the abuses, and then my position is we should do the same thing with drugs. Because if we prohibit it, we drive the market underground and then a whole bunch of other bad things happen because of the underground market.

Dean Becker: Now, some of the studies that you have prepared, the benefit, if you will, of no longer enforcing marijuana laws and instead, gaining tax revenue. Tell us about that ’swing’ in dollars.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: It depends on exactly which class of drugs. For marijuana, we’d be talking about a fifteen to twenty billion dollar swing. About a third of that as a tax revenue and about two thirds of that is reduction in expenditure, on arrests and prosecutions and jail time and so on, and that’s adding together both federal and state revenues. If you talked about all drugs, the total amounts would be much more substantial, would be actually about seventy-five billion dollars.

Dean Becker: In your book, which I just finished and I want to highly recommend to people out there, whether they’re newbie’s, just learning about drug policy, or if they’re old timers who have the time in grade. This book, “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Drug Prohibition” kind of takes it a little step further. It helps you to see the glaring evidence that says this must end, I think.

Jeffrey, we have, over the lifetime of the drug war some say, spent as much as a trillion dollars, trying to stop the flow of drugs and over that same time frame about ten trillion dollars has flowed into the coffers of the Taliban and the cartels and the street corner gangs. It’s a vast waste of our resources, is it not?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: I agree it’s a waste of resources. First it’s a waste because there’s very little evidence that we’ve managed to reduce drug use to a significant degree, by spending all this money and there’s also a waste because, by driving the market underground, we’ve created these negative ancillary consequences. So, in black markets, people resolve their disputes with guns rather than with warriors or with advertising and that spills over onto all of society.

In underground markets, quality control is low and so the people who do use drugs, suffer much worse negative effects than if they could use them legally. We infringe on civil liberties. We prevent medicinal uses of the currently illegal drugs and a number of other negative impacts.

Dean Becker: Jeffrey, I talked to you earlier in the week and I said I was going to bring you some quotes from Robert Mueller, the FBI director, and there’s been all kinds of people kind of stepping forward onto this thin ice, if you will, and making one statement or another. Mueller didn’t seem to think that it was a bad idea to go after marijuana people, because he thought people died from it and it just seems kind of preposterous that those so entrenched in this bureaucracy; those with so much power; wielding it towards what happens to people who use drugs; is so ignorant to the truth of the matter. Would you agree to that?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: I think there, in many cases, are just grotesque exaggerations or outright falsifications about the facts and there’s also a complete lack of consistency, in terms of raising questions about the safety of drug vs. the questions about the safety of alcohol or tobacco, things that are legal.

To the best of my knowledge, and that’s something I’ve researched for a long time, there’re no documented death from misuse or overuse of marijuana. Now there of course are / have been traffic fatalities that are probably attributable to driving under the influence of marijuana, but of course, there are many, many deaths attributable to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Nevertheless, we keep alcohol as a legal commodity and it makes sense to be consistent and to also treat marijuana as a legal commodity and attempt to deter misuse as such as driving under the influence.

Dean Becker: I’m rambling tonight, I’m sorry about that but I wanted to say this that, rather than carry the sound bite from Robert Mueller, I want to give you this little segment from our new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske. This is courtesy KUOW up there in Seattle, from the weekday show with Steve Scher.
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Gil Kerlikowske: I think it’s important that in many ways, on an issue as controversial at times, as drug policy, that the administration speaks with one voice. That we’re aligned on these issues and policy actually it’s not exciting, it’s not like running a police department. You don’t get calls at two O’clock in the morning. But in the long run, it’s got the potential to make the country sounder, when it comes to our economy. To get people back into being tax paying, productive citizens who’ve been under the influence of drugs.
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Dean Becker: Your thoughts there, Jeffrey? There are millions of people out there that use drugs and go to work and pay their taxes. Am I right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That’s absolutely correct. Yes.

Dean Becker: Yet, I see is as; If you’ve seen that movie, Minority Report, that they want to, look into the future and change things now. So the future won’t just crater. What’s your thought?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Well, going back to the new drug czar’s view, I think that is a useful step because he seems to have ramped down the notion that we should be calling policy, a war on drugs. He hasn’t gone nearly as far as I would go in terms of, advocating for legalization but, he at least has expressed the notion that the objective of policy should be to help people. Not to wage a war on people and so I expect that there will be a move in a saner direction under Obama and under his leadership.

Dean Becker: Now, I’m a little scared that maybe you’re wrong, Jeffrey. Here’s another little segment from Gil Kerlikowske, the new drug czar.
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Gil Kerlikowske: I would tell you this, that the legalization vocabulary, it doesn’t exist for me and it certainly was made clear that it does not exist in President Obama’s vocabulary.
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Dean Becker: Yeah, I… go ahead.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That’s right. I mean, he’s not jumping on the legalization band wagon, but there are degrees of being a prohibitionist and he, so far, would seem to be at the much milder end of the spectrum and part of the issue is just not that we have bad laws, but that we spend a huge amount of money trying to enforce them.

I expect that to moderate or go down over the next few years. Partially because of the budget situation. The Obama administration is desperate to find any revenue they can to allocate to other things that they regard as higher priorities and I think they’ve signaled that enforcing the drug laws, is not going to be high priority.

So, I’m totally with you that I would like him to have gone much, much, much farther. I still think it is a useful step away from the really extreme position that we’ve seen for the last eight years and forever much as the seven or eight decades.

Dean Becker: No, you’re right and again, I’m not trying to pour water on this, but I will believe it when I see it. When it’s before me.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That’s fair enough.

Dean Becker: OK, now. Another chapter in your book deals with prohibition and violence. Let’s talk about that. I hear so many people say, “Oh. Well, we can’t legalize drugs ’cause those cartel members, they’re criminals. They’ll just do something even more dangerous and yet, you know, we can’t just do it as a ‘Jobs Program’ for cartels forever, either. Right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Right, and the evidence if pretty clear, if we look at alcohol prohibition that, when we re-legalized alcohol in 1933, the amount of violence in the US declined dramatically, within just a couple of years. So no doubt, some people who work in an illegal industry, are people who are not such nice people, who are going to kind of have some tendency to be criminals no matter what.

But, there are a huge number that are drawn into it simply because of the extra high rate of profit and they are drawn into it and made to be more violent, because that’s the only way the contracts can be enforced and so on, in an underground market.

So, if you take the profit out of it and if you allow it to be legal industry, it makes sense, and the evidence confirms, that most of those people will move into legal industries or at least in the underground industries that don’t have the violence.

That’s a cry for a lot of industries. They’re only violent and we only see large amounts of violence in society, when we have driven all these things underground. So, I think that view that you expressed about the drug cartels is simply, is not accurate, not even close.

Dean Becker: Just this past week Francisco Santos Calderon gave a speech to the 39th Washington Conference on the Americas and he said something which caught my ear and that is that, ‘The prohibition of drugs is like steroids for these cartels.’ It is the bread and butter. It is what makes it possible for them to branch out and do their other crimes. Your thoughts on that?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: I guess I would say it differently. I think that they may be perfectly happy to have the drug be prohibited because they’re able to earn an extra high rate of profit. Drugs are prohibited. If instead, drug were legal, then there wouldn’t be any particular profit in drugs as opposed to anything else and as long as there not other industries that have been driven underground, the people who work in the cartels have no choice but to either be unemployed or to go legit, and that’s what the evidence says as we have observed in many, many other instances.

Think about the gambling industry. When that was illegal, there was lots of violence associated with in in the United States. As it’s become legalized, in various ways over the past several decades, we’ve seen the violence associated with the gambling industry essentially disappear.

Dean Becker: OK. I’ve got another clip here from the new drug czar. In this one he starts to sound just very similar to our just past drug czar, the one you debated awhile back. Let’s play that clip.
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Gil Kerlikowske: If you look at what’s killing people now and what is addicting people in this country, it legalized pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals that are manufactured. Pharmaceuticals that are under the control of physicians. Pharmaceuticals that go through prescriptions, etc.

So, those are legalized drugs and the addiction level from the hydrocodone’s, the OxyContin, etc. are huge, and the overdose deaths are significant. So, I think legalization is waving the white flag saying, ’Gee, a policy doesn’t work’, ’Things aren’t as successful as we want them to be, therefore we should end it’ and I don’t agree with that.
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Dean Becker: Again that, to me, sounded like it came directly out of Walter’s playbook.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: It is somewhat and at another level, it’s not so… Or if there’s claim that these policies, we shouldn’t wave the white flag and admit that the state of policy is not working and give up. Well, I don’t think that makes sense. I think that if you realize that a policy you’ve been undertaking is not working, the rational thing to do is say, ’Maybe we should do something different’, with respect to specifics.

Of course, there are misuses of prescription drugs and there are lots of misuse now of the currently illegal drugs. The crucial point is, the prohibition is not keeping people from misusing them and so it makes no sense to continue that, given the negative things, like increased violence.

On the issue of whether he sounds just like his predecessors, I think that the ‘behind the scenes’ are somewhat visibly. They’re talking about more of a public health approach. They’re talking about less money devoted to interdiction and then enforcement. More money allocated to treatment and to harm reduction and things like that and although reasonable people can debate whether all that money for demand reduction is cost effective, it clearly does not generate the same level of negative side effects as interdiction.

So, I still think that it’s different, although I totally accept your point, that it doesn’t sound as different as I would like and I guess, in some ways, the proof is in the pudding. We haven’t seen yet, exactly what they’re going to do in practice.

Dean Becker: Exactly. I saw a speech with Walters, just last October, here in Houston where, he was talking about the need for more treatment, more understanding, more education, but he didn’t, and again, who’s going to pull the plug on that prison industrial machine. I mean, that’s the real key to this.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That is the real key and as long as the government is funding, all this effort at arresting people and locking people up, then that just perpetuates a huge number of the negatives and as you’ve suggested, we’ve created an interest group that now has political clout. The whole prison industrial complex can go and say, ’Oh, if you legalize drugs, you’ll put a bunch of people out of work. So, because we won’t have anymore prisons to build and so we need it as a Job’s Program.’

But that, of course, is totally insane. If you want to have a ‘Job’s Program’ that’s really, really huge, based on that kind of thinking, well, you would outlaw food and then we can lock up everybody who buys and sells food. That would be very effective… {chuckling at the insane idea}

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: …except at making no sense, whatsoever.

Dean Becker: Well, not much more or less than what they’re currently doing, if you ask me. OK. Folks, we’re speaking with Jeffrey Miron, a Professor at Harvard University. Jeffrey, you are the Senior Lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Economy at Harvard. Right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: That’s correct.

Dean Becker: Jeffrey, I have enjoyed your book so much and I guess what I started to say earlier, before I got fragmented, my favorite book of all time is, * ’Why Our Drug Laws a Failed Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs‘ by Judge James P. Gray.

But this one is like the second book in that series, as far as I’m concerned, because it takes what he said and brings it a little more in focus, a little more timely, if you will, to get folks motivated. That’s what I try to do here, is to get folks to, if they fully understand, they ought to get off their butt and go out and do something about this. Because it’s just waiting to crater. Am I right?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Yeah. It needs more energy and it needs more action, but it’s very hard because there are groups that have been fighting this policy for quite a while and put a lot of time and energy into it but, because of, I guess, historical accidents as much as anything else, the major political parties in the US do not provide a natural home for a position of changing drug policy; of moving toward legalization.

For democrats, they’re trying to get people in the middle, some people who are sort of socially moderate republicans. But they don’t want to seem too soft on crime or soft on drugs or anything like that because they’re nervous that that won’t get them the swing voters and republicans are very worried about maintaining their conservative base and that group, on the whole, is not supportive of legalization. So, there’s no easy way for a mainstream politician to be able to take on this issue and still get re-elected.

We saw one major politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least suggested the issue deserves study, but he’s term limited. He doesn’t need to run again. He can’t run again, I mean. So, if you want to get re-elected in this country, for anything above a very local office, it doesn’t seem that it pays off, from a purely self interest perspective of a politician, to take on this issue.

Dean Becker: Well, that is changing. There are getting to be a few politicians around the country that dare to speak this truth. I know Rodger Goodman, up in Washington State, his republican candidate, this last cycle, was also for ending the drug war. So, local - Seattle. But of course, it can be done and I guess, it will grow and expand across this country, eventually.

Jeffrey, I want to ask you about Chapter five. You’re talking there about, ’Is prohibition good policy?’ We’re talking about the moral aspects. Let’s talk about the morals of the drug war.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Yeah, I think the moral argument is very awkward because, of course, it’s not trivial to define exactly what one means by morality and different people have different views of what’s moral or not and I think it’s very hard to argue that, somehow consuming alcohol and possibly becoming intoxicated, is moral. But consuming marijuana, is somehow different. It just; it’s completely arbitrary to say one is moral, one is not.

But even more, if you accept the analysis that I provided there and then lots of other people have derived at, the prohibition has all these disastrous implications. Innocent people caught in drive-by shootings, people who use drugs who get infected with HIV by sharing dirty needles, because prohibition means we can’t buy and sell clean needles.

Infringements on civil liberties. Racial profiling. Restrictions on medicinal uses of drugs and so on. All these things are incredibly immoral implications of prohibition. So, even if one were to argue this, purely on the basis of morality, I think it’s sort of a slam dunk that legalization makes more sense than prohibition.

Dean Becker: Oh, exactly. It does, my friend. I know you’ve worked with my band-of-brothers, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. They had a recognition of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of the ’alcohol laws’ and you participated with that, I think and let’s talk about the comparisson of, I guess, it was eleven / twelve years and they ended alcohol prohibition. Now we’re going on ninety years or something for the drug prohibiton. What’s the difference?

Professor Jeffry Miron: Well, it’s not clear, but I think the main difference is that when we criminalized alcohol, we were criminalizing something that was widely used across a pretty big swath of society. So when the question came of re-legalizing it, because of the crime that had been created because of the desire to tax it, almost everybody involved could remember a time when alcohol had been legal and it was a broad section of society that had had some use of alcohol; interaction with alcohol.

Whereas marijuana, to a large degree and certainly other drugs, are used by a smaller segment of society and there are few people, currently alive, remember when marijuana was legal and so, it seems more dangerous. It seems more scary. It’s less familiar. It wasn’t as central a part of standard culture, whereas the use of alcohol is enshrined in many, many cultures and many religious practices such as sacraments, Catholicism or drinking four cups of wine at a Seder, and so on and so forth.

So, it wasn’t such a big change. It wasn’t so unfamiliar. I think that the problem, of course, the longer we go, the bigger that problem is. I think what might change it, is that other countries have moved in a direction of legalization, quite substantially. So perhaps observing them and realizing that when they do that, their societies don’t decay; don’t fall apart. Their economies don’t grind to a halt. Maybe that will give us some evidence and some ammunition to reconsider our own policy.

Dean Becker: Exactly. Well my friends, we’ve been speaking with Professor Jeffrey Miron, author of: “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition” I highly recommend it.

Jeffrey, my job here, over the years, has been forming a choir and then teaching the choir to sing solo’s and it’s wonderful to have you, such a great soloist with us, if you will. Any closing thought you’d like to share?

Professor Jeffrey Miron: I just appreciate you hearing my thoughts and I would agree with you that I hope people will take some time to just think about the issue and question some of the statements and assumptions that are put out there by the people who advocate our current policy.

Dean Becker: Alright. Thank you, Jeffrey and I do appreciate you being with us and if possible, please, I’d like to have you back a couple of times before this year is over. There’s much more we need to talk about.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Sure. Be happy to.

Dean Becker: Alright. Thank you, Sir.

Professor Jeffrey Miron: Take care.
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Opening up a can of worms and going fishing . . . for truth.
This is the Drug Truth Network. drugtruth.net
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Yes, I love to go fishing for truth.

As I said, we have an invitation out to Gil Kerlikowske, the new drug czar. Let’s see if he’ll come on ‘this’ show and answer a few questions like, ‘How can you justify a hundred years of war? Do you need another hundred?’ You know, that kind of thing. ‘Thirty-eight million arrests. Is that enough for you, Sir? Or do we need another 38?’ ‘A trillion dollars flushed down the toilet. Should we get a bigger toilet?’ Those kinds of things. Let’s see if he can actually address those types of questions.

You, long term listeners, understand this problem. If you’re not speaking up, if you’re not doing your part, I have to ask you, why not? I have to ask you to think about what kind of life; what kind of society, do you want to leave for your kids and your grandkids? What do you want to leave behind? Isn’t it time to speak up and stand up and do your part to end this madness of drug war? ‘Cause, as Jeffrey says, there is no justification. Nothing of merit. No morals associated with this. You must be the difference. So I urge you to, ‘do your part‘. Please visit our website drugtruth.net.

Our next Cultural Baggage show, we’ll have David Rosenbloom, the new head of CASA. As close to the drug czar as I’ve ever been able to get. Hoping you’ll join us for that. Please do your part. As always, I remind you that there is no justification, no logic, no scientific fact, medical data. In fact, no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped.

Please visit our website endprohibion.org

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston

* Judge James P. Gray: ”Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It -- A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs”

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org