There are several parts to solving America’s current heroin epidemic. Unlike previous drug epidemics, America is increasingly treating this one from a health based point of view. That view is undoubtedly a major part of the solution and will likely be more effective and humane than criminalizing the users. However, as long there is a demand for the drug and there is a healthy profit to be made from it, the supply side will never stop. We cannot incarcerate, prosecute and fight our way out of this. We have been down that road before, with little to no avail for over forty years. Believing that it will change now is equivalent to delusion.
If we really want to stop the supply side, we have to take away the suppliers money. No, not by having the Treasury Department sanction banks and other businesses that take in heroin profits. (Although most illicit drug money probably goes undetected anyway. Otherwise the suppliers would not be in business.) The key to taking the supply side’s money is to take away the motivation in the first place. “You can push heroin, but there is no money in it, so what’s the point?” That is the question that we need to leave the supply side asking. How we do achieve this? Decriminalization.
Decriminalization would drastically reduce the motivation for drug suppliers to grow poppies, refine them into heroin, smuggle them into America, and distribute it to the end user. Think about it logically for a minute. (I know it can be hard to do, because the idea of decriminalization makes the public see red – more on that in a bit.) What makes heroin or other drugs for that matter so expensive? Are poppies really scarce or is heroin difficult to make? The answer is no on both counts. What makes it so expensive are the incredible risks involved in the entire supply side process, from start to finish. Suppliers are routinely risking their lives and the lives of their families, whether it be at the hands of rivals or the justice system. That is what makes heroin so fantastically profitable and convinces legions of poor people the world over that it is worth the risk. Take away the profit motivation by taking away the risk and the money simply dries up. There is no reason that it would be any more profitable than growing and supplying tomatoes to the market. And given the choice, if both products are equal in profitability, most people would rather give the world tomatoes.
And that is where the illogic of drug criminalization begins. People often see the supply side as being the result of people who just don’t care about human life as much as you or I do. Mexicans, Colombians, and inner city residents just don’t care as much. That is the argument that is pedaled, even if indirectly. It is incorrect. It is the high rates of poverty + the combination of incredible profits that lead these demographic groups, among others to disproportionally become involved in drug trafficking.
The problem is that when the public sees their children and their neighbors dying of heroin overdoses, they are more interested in payback than in long term solutions. It is very difficult to accept that a long term winning solution might not involve making the supplier suffer. That is unfortunately the way a lot of people do politics. It is not about solving the problem, but rather about seeing the other guy go down; the hippies, the Mexicans, young black males, etc. (And by the way, I am sure those groups of people are just as capable of being overcome by the desire to see short term solutions to their problems that involving kicking sand in someone’s face rather than solving the problem. We are all guilty of this type of thinking.)
Not only do humans have an appetite for negative politics, but there are entire industries and government agencies that exist solely to fight the war on drugs. There are tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars at stake. The militarized counter narcotics industry will not go quietly.
However, we should not continue failed policies just to satisfy short term political gains and emotional whims. It is not in the interest of the country and it is not the interest of those most afflicted by the scourge of heroin or other dangerous drugs for that matter. Drug decriminalization offers the most effective way of depriving the supply side of its money, thereby drastically decreasing the impetus to grow, produce, and distribute heroin.
*We do not advocate legalization for heroin or any other drugs, other than marijuana. Drugs are simply too poisonous a product to condone as legal. Decriminalization would simply be a tactic to once and for all defeat the supply side.