Questions and Answers about the War on Drugs

To our 2 Paragraphs Family,

As you know, the edition I sent to you on Monday, September 14, 2020 asked the question of whether we were winning the so-called War on Drugs. Soon thereafter one of our Family members responded by sending me these thoughtful observations and questions. Then I responded him and again my friend back to me, with those last responses being set forth in all caps. I thought that many of you would be interested in our discussion, so I am forwarding it to you now.


I love these email from you, and this “Request to the Community” is the best.

However, I would like to know your response to the fact that legalizing marijuana in CA has not eliminated, and in fact has seemingly barely dented, the illegal drug trade. See, e.g. (“JULY 20, 2020 SACRAMENTO — Alarmed that unlicensed cannabis sellers continue to dominate California’s pot market, state lawmakers are moving toward imposing steep new fines on businesses that provide building space, advertising platforms and other aid to illicit operations.” Emphasis added. Sounds like moving from penalizing users and sellers, now we are going after landlords, real estate agents, PR executives, web promotors, etc.)

Is the answer to fill the jails with the purveyors of illegal marijuana, formerly known as drug dealers? That seems to put us back to the “war on drugs.”

Is it a function of allowing marijuana and every other drug to be sold on every street corner, school campus, and grocery store as completely unregulated? That seems “libertarian” but like a nightmare.

Or better yet, should drugs be purchased and distributed to everybody by the government-run socialized medicine system, which can monopolize the drug trade, squeeze out the black market, and track who is using what and how much, and give anybody whatever they want to use in the privacy of their own home? (I think that I know what the libertarian response to socialized medicine will be.) That would get rid of the black market, but if you limit who gets meth or how much, the black market reappears and you are back to the war on drugs.

I do see that we have “normalized” or removed any stigma there may have been to buying, selling and using marijuana in California, and I am confident that we have many more people getting high now. There is a statistic from the California Office of Traffic Safety that “In 2018, 42% of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes, who were tested, tested positive for legal and/ or illegal drugs. That percentage has been increasing every year.” . I tend to question statistics, because I believe that they are frequently manipulated, but is that a good thing that drug users seem to be killing themselves on our highways? I do not see statistics that are more recent than 2018, but hope that somebody is trying to figure it out.

I am also told by people whom I respect that marijuana is a gateway drug, and believe the studies (and personal observation) that marijuana use by those whose brains have not fully developed causes permanent changes, which I might call “injury” or impairment. If we forbid those from getting it, we are creating a black market.

I don’t have answers other than law enforcement, which has gotten us where we were before legalization, and I don’t believe that there are any great answers. I agree that the war on drugs has not been as successful as hoped, but am not convinced that government distribution, limited regulation, or lack of regulation is better or prevents the need to enforce drug laws. I think that we need to ask the questions and have the discussion, and I know that you have given this far more thought than I have, and am counting on you to explain your reasoning while considering these problems.

It seems that the best answer may be to strictly regulate and enforce. So long as there is regulation, there will be the black market and a need to enforce the laws.

By the way, I would argue that getting “192 pounds of methamphetamines, 5 pounds of heroin, 500 fentanyl pills” off the street will make a difference, because restricting or limiting a supply does make a difference, even if it only means that the price goes up. If you were to ask the cops making arrests, I suspect that they would tell you that one of the most frightening and dangerous situations is arresting somebody who is high on meth, and has the strength of many people and the lack of judgment to refrain from grabbing for an officer’s weapons. How many families are destroyed by drug addiction? How many divorces are caused, in large part, by drug addiction? Is it the jail, or is it really the addiction that leads to jail, that destroys those lives? I think that we seriously need to stop the flow and use of meth, and probably other drugs as well.

Come to think of it, let’s talk about “are we winning yet?” Let’s say that the war on drugs has helped 2 million people avoid drug addiction because they did not want to break the law, helped another 2 million get treatment and avoid relapse, and another 2 million sober up intermittently rather than becoming homeless and dropping out of society. Those 6 million would emphatically say yes, and you would be debating the cost rather than “win or lose,” as in whether the harm to society has not been worth those results. That is a harder, but more appropriate debate. In a win or lose analysis, you need to know when the game is over, but we don’t have that. If we “abandon” the war on drugs, are we abandoning enforcement of laws against the black market? No.

I think the question must be, how do we adjust the war on drugs, restate our goals, and redefine our victory.

Here was my response to those questions, with my friend’s further response in all caps at the end.

Hi my great and questioning friend, and I think I will vote for you for President!

Truly appropriate questions – all!


1. Mind-altering and sometimes addicting drugs have been available in every society from the beginning of time – except the Eskimos because they couldn’t grow anything, but now chemistry and transportation have included them as well.

2. Since the drugs are here, they will cause harms!

3. We should/must adopt a policy that will reduce those harms.

4. Under today’s approach, all of these drugs are freely available. In fact, according to numbers of prison inmates I have spoken with, they are also freely available in our country’s prisons – based only upon price. Furthermore, don’t just take my word for it, ask the next ten teenagers you find what is easier for them to obtain – if they want to – marijuana or alcohol? Each one will say that they would know where to go easily to purchase marijuana. So, in this regard, we couldn’t do it worse if we tried!

5. People who have studied these problems have concluded that about 10 percent of society’s problems in these areas are derived from the use of the drugs themselves: addiction, damage to the user, and more. But about 90 percent are caused by drug money. Drug cartels, juvenile street gangs (who use the sale of illicit drugs as a recruiting tool!), users burglarizing our property to get money to purchase these artificially expensive drugs, and all of the graft, corruption, violence, crime and even beheadings have virtually nothing to do with the drugs, they are all a result of drug money. THIS IS EXTREMELY INTERESTING, AND NOT SOMETHING THAT IS REPEATED OFTEN ENOUGH. YOU KNOW THAT I MISTRUST STATISTICS AND WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE BASIS FOR THIS, BUT EVEN IF IT IS 50/50, THAT IS AN AMAZING AND INFORMATIVE STATISTIC.

6. Regulating and controlling drugs like marijuana through the private sector is the way to go. (BTW that would also bring back the industrial hemp industry: think gunny sacks, hemp seed granola, hemp ethanol for cars, and MUCH more!) BUT, like you note, the taxes and regulations must be reduced so we have the ability significantly to reduce the illicit sales. We drive them out of business by undercutting their prices, and that clearly is not happening today.

7. Other drugs like meth – which scares me hugely! – should be controlled by medical professionals. They can work with the users, counsel them, prescribe the drugs to them and monitor their usage. But we all must focus upon this fact: quality control is a huge issue. Most overdoses are caused by unknown purity and unknown strength. For example, the “white lightning” problem of impurities with bootleg alcohol went away with the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition. That is a significant health issue. ANOTHER PIECE OF THE PUZZLE THAT I WAS NOT AWARE OF, ALTHOUGH IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE. I KNOW THAT COLORADO STRUGGLED WITH ESTABLISHING GRADES, PURITY, ETC. WHEN IT LEGALIZED CANNABIS.

8. The sales of all of these drugs outside of the regulated and controlled system will still be prosecuted. So since the criminal justice risks would remain, but their prices undercut, many fewer people would be selling illicit drugs.

9. People will be held accountable for their actions, but not, as adults, for what they put into their bodies. That way, if someone burglarizes your house to get drugs or a new stereo, jail is the result. And if he/she has drug problems, we still have probation to coerce the problem users into drug treatment. But otherwise, if people are only causing problems for themselves but not others, that will no longer be a criminal justice matter. So if police see someone under the influence, etc. they can be cited to go see a medical professional who can help them, instead of a judge like me. DO YOU KNOW WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE CONVICTIONS WERE FOR POSSESSION FOR PERSONAL USE, AND HOW MANY FOR INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE OR OTHER CRIMES. I MAY BE JADED BECAUSE I LIVE IN CALIFORNIA, BUT IT WAS MY IMPRESSION THAT FOR MANY YEARS POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA OR EVEN OTHER DRUGS FOR PERSONAL USE WAS USED MORE TO GET PEOPLE INTO REHAB, OR COUNSELING, OR SOME OTHER WAY OF TRYING TO INFLUENCE THEM RATHER THAN TO INCARCERATE THEM. (Today in California it is still a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days in jail for people convicted of being under the influence of narcotics or meth under Health and Safety Code section 11550. BTW For many years the simple possession of narcotics was a felony in California, but being under the influence was a misdemeanor. That resulted in too many people swallowing these drugs just before being arrested so they couldn’t be found in possession. Of course, many of them died of overdose by doing that.)

10. In countries like Portugal that have decriminalized the use of all drugs, it is true that there have been increased deaths on the highways where drivers had been using the formerly-illegal drugs. BUT overall deaths on the highways decreased by 10 percent, because many fewer drivers were using alcohol. So that is a net gain!

11. It is clear that the use of these drugs, certainly including marijuana, is harmful to a person who has not yet reached the age of 25(?). Before they are 21, I would still have their use illegal. (And, yes, that would mean there still would be a Black Market to sell to them. But I think those prosecutions would be supported and much more effective.) Otherwise, the governments should put out accurate medical information into the marketplace, much like we have done for the last 15 to 20 years about the use of cigarettes. That approach has vastly reduced the consumption of tobacco.

12. As you know, Life is Complicated! So there will be some failures. But these approaches would seriously reduce the harms we all want to be reduced.


At least those are my thoughts. And thank you for raising truly legitimate issues.

Best to you,

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) Superior Court of Orange County, California 2012 Libertarian Candidate for Vice President

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