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Legalization debate continues

Published: Thursday, February 15, 2007

Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 01:12

Re: "No punchlines found in Block columns," On The Record, Feb. 2.

Dear Editor,

My faculty colleague, Michael Perlstein, claims "Block doesn't believe the population of drug abusers would increase." To the contrary, there will be millions of drug addicts who will flock to the Big Easy were we to institute such a humane proposal; the more the better as far as I am concerned.

But these are not at all the sorts of people Perlstein wants to see populating the Crescent City. He calls them "desperados ... the most unstable, unhealthy and criminally inclined segment of the population." But they are not human garbage. Rather, they are victims of a cruel and unjust drug prohibition law. Under legalization, they would bloom, as do newly watered flowers after a period of drought.

Why? Prohibition radically raises the price of drugs. The desperation of the addict stems from the fact that apart from a few rich athletes, doctors, singers and actors, the only way this price may be paid is through prostitution, drug pushing or robbery. According to some estimates it costs $2,000 per week to support a habit. But with legalization, this might drop to $10; these substances grow like weeds. If feeding a drug habit costs about as much as eating a few candy bars, these human beings could lead quasi-normal lives. Without the desperate search for the next "fix," this present flotsam and jetsam could be turned in one fell swoop into productive members of New Orleans.

There are many square miles of empty, abandoned houses just waiting for people to repair and occupy them. We are in desperate need of new occupants who would be willing to work-drug addicts no longer in thrall to exorbitant black market drug prices.

Increased crime is a great danger, especially at a time when "the overwhelmed New Orleans police department can't keep up with stray shoplifters." Of course, the cops can't deal with petty theft, let alone the more serious kind: they are too busy hassling, arresting and incarcerating people for the non-crime of polluting their own bodies. Some 60 percent of all inmates are in prison due to drug "crimes." Were drugs legalized, the police could focus on stopping real crimes.

My Loyola colleague labels as a "fiction" my contention that "An inordinate amount of these (New Orleans murders) consists of drug dealers shooting each other in turf wars." Perhaps journalism professors do not read newspapers or consult crime statistics.

Perlstein claims there will be "newbie cocaine and heroin users." No. Anyone who wants to can shoot up right now. There is surely no one, at present, who refrains from drug use simply because of prohibition. At least, under legalization, no one would go to school yards and try to hook youngsters, as at present.

Should New Orleans follow the path blazed by Las Vegas? Were drugs legal here, "people would leave New Orleans in droves," he says. They are already doing that; we are the murder capital of the country. Perlstein doesn't seem to realize that the Big Uneasy is already emptying out

Our horrendous murder rate is due to drug gangs shooting it out with each other over turf. Under legalization, this stops forthwith, just as it did when prohibition of alcohol ended. "Progressives" should be appalled.

Perlstein concedes the "'war on drugs" is a dismal failure." The logical implication of this is legalization. On the other he adamantly rejects a possible breakthrough such as the one I propose. That is, he rejects legalization.

Perhaps he opposes a free market in drugs for New Orleans alone. We are too brittle, too helpless in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Where, then, should this legalization take place? In the entire country? Not too likely. In some city that is doing reasonably well? None would likely take what so many people regard as a leap in the dark. Legalization has to occur somewhere, and no more likely place for this is our own New Orleans. Perlstein dismisses this proposal as something that should have been written "for entertainment purposes only," as an "April Fools' joke." But it is our present policy that is ludicrous.

Sincerely, Walter Block Professor College of Business

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