Gang violence and the drug culture

I’ve been watching a lot of the History Channel’s Gangland series and Investigation Discovery’s Gang Nation lately. One thing I’ve noticed is that much of the gang violence is due, directly or indirectly, to drugs. Well, no duh.

When Prohibition was enacted, the outlaws had a ready source of easy money. Bootlegging, moonshining, the speakeasies, et al. were extremely profitable to gangsters. The associated violence that the gangsters used was almost a natural side effect; turf wars, robbing each other, fighting law enforcement, etc. were just standard business practices for many criminals. People were willing to pay big money for their illicit hooch. Criminals who were limited to small-time crimes previously found big money bootlegging alcohol.

Yet, as soon as Prohibition was repealed, much of the violent crime went away since there wasn’t a stimulus for it; the gangs simply couldn’t compete with the legal stores. There was no more money to be made moving liquor so the gangs moved into other area of crime, which was usually less violent. During the Prohibition era, the murder rate nearly doubled in the US. After it was repealed, the murder rate dropped in half.

So, there is a precedent that outlawing something will lead to more crime because that something is now coveted by certain people willing to pay for it. That payment may come in many different forms: money, sex, barter, etc. Ergo, when something is banned, it creates an initial black market because people still want it and a secondary market of associated crimes to “pay the price” of the black market.

All of this leads to my thoughts about the current crisis of gang violence. Most of this violence is due to the large amount of money to be made dealing with illegal drugs. I can’t say for certain that legalizing drugs would curb the violence and associated crimes, but Prohibition and similar bans have shown that there is a correlation between the two.

Of course, correlation does not imply causality. And I have to state that I am not a drug user nor have I ever tried illegal drugs. But if drugs were legalized and controlled, would the associated violence and crime levels drop? Plus, legalizing and taxing drugs would provide a huge financial shot in the arm (no pun intended) to government budgets, something that many states and counties are dealing with right now.

More studies are coming out that indicate marijuana is less dangerous than currently legal drugs, such as one from 2007. Of course, there are just as many studies that show marijuana is really, really bad for you. Just a simple search on the web will find hundreds of different studies that can be used to prove nearly any point you want to make.

Ultimately, I think making drugs illegal is about control. Much like Prohibition was about the temperance movement controlling what people did with alcohol (regardless of the altruistic reasons the people may have had) and how religions concern themselves with controlling people’s sex lives, I suspect the illegal drug movement has deeper reasons for keeping drugs illegal, beyond the “concern” for drug users.

Think about how many people make a living based off illegal drugs. Disregarding the immediate criminals, here’s a list of beneficiaries off the top of my head:

  1. federal law enforcement: FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshalls, etc. are all involved in either drugs or gangs
  2. local law enforcement, ranging from vice squads to special gang units, not to mention all associated crimes (burlaries, robberies, fencing stolen goods, etc.)
  3. law makers who trumpet the “war on drugs” every election year
  4. prisons (I think the latest stats are that 50%+ of the prison population is incarcerated for marijuana possession)
  5. government-licensed pot growers

Needless to say, there’s probably just as much money involved in fighting illegal drugs as there is in selling them.

Now, I’m not advocating anything one way or the other. I don’t use drugs nor do I plan on it. I just thing there are better things to do with the resources being spent on them. Think about it.

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