Replacement Therapy

Here is an interesting story about our War On Drugs as related by Former Prosecutor Volney V. Brown Jr.

We decided to test the effectiveness of simultaneously arresting every drug seller on the streets of an isolated city, and picked Phoenix for the exercise.

Using more "buy money" than Arizona had ever seen before, we bought into each street dealer we could find, two or three times each. It turned out that Phoenix had 76 drug pushers. In the middle of a week night, with the help of state and local police, we arrested all 76 at the same time.

For a week it was impossible to buy drugs on the streets of Phoenix. The single local drug treatment program was swamped. Addicts who could not get treatment left town to score elsewhere. But on the eighth day, new street pushers began to appear in the city, and before a month had elapsed, it was business-as-usual. We had spent tens of thousands of federal tax dollars, and sent scores of pushers to prison, but there was no lasting effect on the availability or price of illicit drugs.

So, in San Diego, we tried another trick. We in ODALE learned that virtually all of the heroin there was being sold by a known gang. State and local police had been unable to bust the gang because the only really effective investigative tool - a court-ordered wire tap - was prohibited by California law.

Because our federal program was not inhibited by state law, our in-house lawyers applied for and obtained a federal wire tap order. After thousands of employee hours at a command center manned around the clock, we arrested all 39 members of the drug gang. For a week it was impossible to buy heroin on the streets of San Diego.

But on the eighth day new street pushers began to appear in the city, and before a month had elapsed it was business-as-usual. We had spent hundreds of thousands of federal tax dollars, and we sent every one of the 39 pushers to federal prison, but there was no lasting effect on the availability of heroin or its price. In one respect we were worse off for our success. Before, we knew who was selling, but afterwards we had no idea.

So after huge expense the best law enforcement could do was to stop drug sales for 8 days and reduce them for 30. And that is not all. After it was over law enforcement had no idea who was selling drugs. Meaning long investigations to start the process all over again.

So what was accomplished? The drug dealers were replaced. Because when there is a market supply will meet demand at a price.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 01.06.09 at 12:11 PM


Can me mandate CAFE standards for drug dealers? Seems to have killed the auto industry.

OregonGuy   ·  January 6, 2009 1:38 PM

I just heard a commercial for a reality TV show demonstrating how good a job Homeland Security is doing stopping drugs from entering the country. I wish I could remember the channel.

Then again, I don't think I want to watch because I doubt it's going to even touch what they miss.

Legalization is the only answer.

Donna B.   ·  January 6, 2009 9:56 PM

Do any sort of crime program for only a single instance and it won't make any appreciable dent, any fool knows that. Now, what would have been the effect if there had been a sustained year-long multi-city push? Almost assuredly far better.

Paul   ·  January 7, 2009 5:28 AM


There are not enough resources to do as you suggest for one. And that is with a $70 bn a year effort. Perhaps a $700 bn a year effort for 10 years might improve the outcome. Write your Congress critter.

For two no government has ever figured out how to beat the law of supply and demand. But maybe you will be the first. Write your Congress critter.

M. Simon   ·  January 7, 2009 5:35 AM

I'd be interested in seeing where you got the seventy billion dollars a year figure. The pro-drug legalization sites mention costs between 40-50 billion a year including all federal and state costs, about a tenth of K-12 education spending for comparison. As for your ridiculous assertion that it would require an order of magnitude increase in spending, these programs were under a million each. In the case of Phoenix, merely tens of thousands of dollars. How making this program last for a year and in several major cities at once would result in an increase of the total drug fight budget by an order of magnitude is beyond me. By my math, it'd have to involve fifty cities at a million per week to cost over two billion. That's also a rather high estimate.

Paul   ·  January 7, 2009 2:11 PM


The numbers vary depending on what is included.

In a little publicized announcement last year, officials from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (a.k.a. the Drug Czar's office) revealed that they had developed a "new methodology" for reporting the federal drug budget—which had grown from less than $2 billion annually in 1982 to $18.8 billion last year. Under this scheme, only funding for agencies involved in so-called "primary" drug war activities is now tabulated in the national anti-drug budget. As a result, more than two-thirds of the agencies included in past years' budgets are conspicuously missing from this year's financial totals!

Let us say that there are 400 target cities. And drug sweeps can be done once a month at a cost of $1 million (not counting the extra load on the criminal justice system - every drug case for a major trafficker runs about $1 million).

That is 400 * 12 * $1 million say about $5 billion a year. Assume that in each city an average of 50 people a month are picked up. That is 400 * 50 * 12 * $1 million. That is $240 billion a year for court costs.

Lets us say all these dealers get 20 year sentences at a cost of $25,000 a year. That is 400 * 50 * 12 * 20 * $25,000. That is $120 billion in total future prison costs the first year or $6 billion a year. After the program has been running 20 years the costs per year will be $120 billion.

So for a mere $360 bn a year we can do two things: Keep drugs off the streets for 8 days a month. Reduce drug flows for 15 days significantly. Drive trafficking to towns where such a program is not in effect.

For only $720 bn a year we can get reduce the supplies to those 400 cities considerably.

Now what will happen? Violence will rise. When you take down the established dealers the new guys will fight it out for territory. So that will be good. We will have created a much worse war on our streets.

And the purpose of all this?

Richard Lawrence Miller's Drug Warriors and Their Prey draws detailed comparisons of the War on Drugs in the United States today with events in 1930s Germany that led to Hitler's Third Reich and the attempted destruction of the Jewish people. Miller writes that "authoritarians are manufacturing and manipulating public fears about drug use in order to create a police state where a much broader agenda of social control can be implemented, using government power to determine what movies we may watch, determine who we may love and how we may love them, determine whether we may or must pray to a deity. I believe the war on drug users masks a war on democracy.

Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State

M. Simon   ·  January 7, 2009 8:06 PM

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