Drug legalization and petty crime

by Rob Horning

28 November 2005

 

It has always been my assumption that people who become deeply involved in drug legalization campaigns are people who hate having their recreational addictions criminalized. Sure, they have a point that society is hypocritcal to condemn one harmful preoccupation while permitting the promotion of others, and is incoherent in celebrating individual liberty while actually enforcing limits on what you are alllowed to do to yourself. But the real effects of drug legalization are incalculable, and the least significant of these is that suburban kids could get someone to buy their pot at a state store or a licensed coffeehouse. The main effects would ripple out of the black markets that a legal drug trade would shutter. Consider this remark in a New York Review of Books article about the recent rioting in French housing projects: “Drugs are big business in the American ghetto; they are not that big in France. The crimes of the French ghetto are robbery and shoplifting, stealing mobile phones, stealing cars for joyrides, burning them afterward to eliminate fingerprints, or burning cars just for the hell of it, as well as robbing middle-class students in the city and making trouble on suburban trains, looking for excitement.” Would it be wrong to assume that were the drug trade taken away from inner-city youths who are barred from most other labor markets and have little else to do, that we wouldn’t see a similar increase in petty crime here? (I probably need statistics from somewhere like Amsterdam to make this argument). Not only would ex-dealers potentially embrace other rackets, but the rise in drug addicts inevitable from increased availability is also likely to create a new breed of petty theives supporting their habit. Perhaps those college kids smoking bongs at those NORML rallies should consider whether their weed access is worth a mugging and several menacings here and there.

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