Drug busts won’t help in the long run

Small-scale arrests only make a dent in a complex systemic problem with no easy solution.

Jasper Johnson

Seven Minneapolis gang members were recently indicted on charges relating to trafficking crack cocaine.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau told KARE 11 that the charges showed “results of a long-term investigation into a violent street gang that has plagued the streets of Minneapolis for too long.”

Addressing the arrests, United States Attorney Andy Luger also said, “Every single case that we bring against gang members makes a dent, and every time we do this that dent gets larger.”

I hate to burst their bubble, but arrests the police make are not going to make a long-term dent in the drug problems we’re facing.

The fact that a handful of drug trafficking gang members were arrested doesn’t change the incentive for them to be involved in such operations in the first place. If we maintain the current “War on Drugs,” people will continue buying and selling drugs and the sellers will continue to use violence.

It’s difficult to suggest to the police that not only have they done nothing to make the situation better, but their efforts have actually made things significantly worse. Officers have been slain, people have been jailed for no reason and cartels have risen to power. The violence due to the criminalization of drugs has, quite literally, blown up to match the proportions of a war.

Making drugs illegal results in the emergence of violent and dangerous narcotics-trafficking gangs. This relationship has been supported with evidence ranging from the bootlegging Chicago gangsters of the 1920s to Mexican marijuana cartels. After governments decriminalized or legalized these drugs, traffickers saw massive drops in profits and often disappeared.

Moving forward, it seems to me that decriminalizing or legalizing drugs is the only way to stop rampant drug-related violence. In addition to removing the incentives for narcotics-trafficking rings, decriminalization or legalization would free up police resources and save an immense amount of money. When Portugal decriminalized all drugs, more people went into rehab, drug-related deaths dropped and the street value of some drugs decreased. However, decriminalization is much easier said than done.

Perverse incentives currently exist for agencies — most notably the Drug Enforcement Administration — to maintain the war on drugs. Decriminalizing drugs would cause massive decreases in the number of arrests made, and downsizing is something that no one likes to see in their workplace.

Still, it’s a shame to hear Minneapolis police and attorneys optimistically plug their work and agendas.

I would’ve hoped that people who work with drug enforcement understand how complex the situation is. It’s irrational to think that continuing to fight drugs with force will eventually improve things when the fight has demonstrably made things worse since its inception.

All wars end. The “War on Drugs” involves tossing people in prison in a misguided and futile attempt to fight basic economics. It’s obvious which side will be able to hold on longer.