Drug law enforcement is not just unnecessarily punitive but discriminately so. We’d all be better without it. No that’s not what I think. It’s the received wisdom of drug legalisation campaigners that George Soros has been putting his billions behind. Law enforcement is more harmful by far than the effects of the noxious drugs its purpose is to control, they claim.
In any debate on drugs policy I take part in, figures are routinely flung at me of the number of people unjustly incarcerated in the United States or unjustly convicted in the UK. Suddenly I find democracy US/UK style is racist and as evil as ISIL.
Typically, I am told that half of all federal prisoners in the US are in for drug offences and that this “…punishment falls disproportionately on people of colour”. “Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes” is typically claimed and rarely challenged.
As for our punitive drugs laws on this side of the pond, I am also routinely informed that “…roughly 87,000 people are being wrongly convicted every year” some 70 per cent of which are for that delightful social drug cannabis, strangely about the same number as the total number of prison places in the UK.
Fact and fiction could not be more different. A recently published written answer shows that in any of the last 5 years, the number of people sentenced to more than a year in prison in the UK for a Class A drugs offence can be counted on two hands ; a sentence of over 6 months for class B drugs (which include cannabis) can be counted on one hand.
Though cautions, discharges and rehabilitation orders far exceed all other sentencing (which includes fines and community orders) outraged liberals like Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute irresponsibly persist in their hyperbole that, “prohibition means putting thousands of people in jail, giving criminal records to hundreds of thousands of others”.
The law is unjust they insist, despite the absence of any evidence for this, that ‘possession’ arrests damage lives, fill prisons and waste police resources.
The latest to get behind the gross social injustice banner is Bill de Blasio, the Democrat Mayor of New York City (the first Democrat since 1993). Under this banner and persuaded that the enforcement of federal marijuana laws doesn’t so much protect minority communities as harm them, he’s instructed the New York Police Department not to enforce them.
The reality is otherwise, however, as John Walters and David W Murray explain here. As here in the UK the actual risk of arrest while using marijuana in the States is stunningly low – about one arrest for marijuana possession for every 34,000 joints smoked.
Drug arrests are far from being a significant portion of law-enforcement activity. Possession arrests for marijuana do not fill US prisons – fewer than 0.3 per cent of the total of those incarcerated in state prisons (which is where most US inmates are incarcerated) in fact. And many of these have “pled down” from more serious offences.
Nor, as we are supposed to uncritically believe, are African-Americans the directly targeted victims of the drug laws; race is not the driver of “disparate impact”.
Walters and Murray will not make themselves popular for explaining why there are more black drug arrests. The simple facts are that: African Americans are more engaged in drug trafficking; their drug use “often occurs in areas with intensive policing, such as urban street corners” which means, yes, that the risk of arrest for African-Americans is indeed higher than for whites, whose use of drugs is typically less conspicuous.
Nor is it just drug-related crime where there are racial disproportions in arrests and incarcerations. As they point out, the same is true for almost all crimes. This difficult fact leaves the outraged liberal in the ‘logical’ but untenable position of having to believe that virtually all efforts to combat crime must be “wars on communities of colour”.
The trouble is with this specious racial discrimination position is that the only solution would be to decriminalise all crime. Where that leaves minority communities is far from protected.
Mayor de Blasio only has to look at recent crime rises California to understand this.
There, the recent passing of Proposition 47 has reduced or eliminated prison time for certain drug and stolen property crimes, the most visible impact of which is its effect on drug possession cases; making California the first state to make drug possession crimes misdemenors instead of felonies.
The impact has been immediate. It appears to be responsible for an increase in crime figures.
In certain areas, aggravated assault is up 9.9 per cent since the law came into effect and burglary by a whopping 30.7 per cent in the same period.
Myths about the harm of punitive enforcement are myths. The price of no enforcement is severe – much more crime which threatens all our well being, whatever our colour.