A survey by the National Association of Counties shows that methamphetamine has become the number one drug problem in most communities, surpassing heroin and cocaine.
Of the responding law enforcement agencies, 87 percent report increases in meth related arrests starting three years ago. Fifty percent of the counties surveyed estimated that 1 in 5 of their current jail inmates were housed because of meth related crimes. Seventeen percent of the counties indicate that more than half of their jail populations are incarcerated because of meth related crimes.
Finally… a homegrown American industry that knows how to compete with low-cost foreign producers.
The survey notes that for every meth lab shut down, 10 new ones are created. If true, I suppose that poses a problem for Pierce County, which according to the Tacoma News Tribune cleaned up 542 labs in 2004… over a third of the 1399 discovered statewide last year.
Generally, my libertarianism doesn’t extend much beyond the First Amendment, but the utilitarian in me can’t help but acknowledge that our “War on Drugs” is a dismal failure that has done nothing to reduce addiction, and has merely diverted market share away from heroin and cocaine to other destructive drugs like meth and Oxycontin. The meth crisis is a classic example of market forces at work… if we do nothing to diminish the demand for drugs, it is near impossible to diminish the supply.
Prohibition is prohibition — it didn’t work with alcohol, and it’s not working with drugs — and it’s utterly ridiculous that our elected leaders can’t engage in a serious debate over reexamining our drug policies without putting their careers at risk. Perhaps it is too much of a shock to ask the American people to accept a legal (if highly regulated and taxed) drug industry, but at the very least we need to consider shifting some of the huge amount of resources we spend on interdiction and incarceration, to efforts that work… like education, prevention and treatment.
A reader in the comment thread pointed out the following interesting tidbit from the Washington Post:
The report comes soon after the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy restated its stance that marijuana remains the nation’s most substantial drug problem. Federal estimates show there are 15 million marijuana users compared to the 1 million that might use meth.
Yeah, that’s right… those local sheriffs don’t know what they’re talking about. The biggest threat to public safety and health is pot smoking. And you wonder why our national drug control policy is failing?