“Now, to kill the dope game,” Mel insisted, “make cocaine cheap, and turn that $20 rock into a $2 rock. All of a sudden, nobody wants to sell it. They barely get by as it is, selling for $20 and making about $10 profit per rock. If they only made a dollar a piece, they’d be better off picking up pop bottles.”
“And just like that,” Mongoose agreed, “there would be no more robbing or killing over dope or dope money.”
“Well,” I countered, “I can see two problems with two-dollar crack. Obviously, cocaine happens to be worth its weight in gold. And then, if crack was cheap, wouldn’t more people be using it?”
“Look here,” Mel responded. “The drug market doesn’t work that way. Most people out there don’t use crack, and their decision has nothing to do with the price of crack. If crack dropped from $20 to $2, would you start using it?”
“Not hardly. You could hand me free samples and I still wouldn’t use it.” I had told him this before.
“See? All non-users would say the same. Lowering the price of crack does not broaden the market. Current drug users are the market.” He was describing a fairly stable subset of the human population. Users use whatever is available, and all price does is move them from one drug to another.
“White people are starting to figure that out,” added Edgar Lee. “When they can’t get their Oxycontin they move to heroin. When heroin’s price goes up, they mix what heroin they can find with fentanyl.” The fentanyl tranquilizer, mixed into heroin at ratios between 8 and 16 parts fentanyl to one part heroin, was responsible for an enormous number of overdoses and deaths.
“So get how stupid the government is with the War on Drugs,” Mel continued, through another coughing fit. “These dumb asses are trying to cut off the supply of certain drugs with the intention of making demand dry up. Makes no sense at all with the illegal drug market, because a lack of supply in any one drug just moves users to other drugs.”
Cocaine was a classic example. Tons of powder were speed boated or flown into Florida in the 70’s and 80’s, courtesy of Colombians who had yet to ally with Mexicans to create overland smuggling routes. Federal interdiction squeezed the cocaine supply, so dealers adapted, making cocaine stretch a long way through the watered-down crack cocaine market. Others, serving a dope-hungry crowd, turned to meth manufacture to fill the market void. All interdiction really did was to drive drug prices up, which increased the associated violence, and drove drug users to use more dangerous drugs.
More recently, synthetic drugs “spice” and “toon” have been supplanting marijuana use, and heroin has been the default option after painkiller prescriptions have gotten harder to obtain. What hasn’t changed a bit is that small, persistent percentage of the population that seeks mood-altering substances.
Mel concluded that the only way to slash the street price of cocaine would be to legalize it. “Legalize all drugs,” Mel proposed, “and treat addiction as a health problem. Treat drugs, more or less, the same way we treat alcohol.”
Legalization would extract, at a minimum, 95% of cocaine’s value. In 1989, Jorge Alvarez described for me cocaine’s journey from Colombia to the United States. In Colombia, Jorge bought freshly processed cocaine for $1000 per kilogram. He considered that rather expensive, but its price in Colombia was due to its illegality there as well. He would invest another $4000 per kilo in transportation costs, flying it from a ranch land airstrip in Colombia to Norman’s Cay, in the Bahamas. There, he would store it at the house of his high school pal from the Colombian city of Armenia, Carlos Lehder. Another pilot would wait for the right weather conditions and hop the load over to Florida, where the kilo’s value jumped to $20,000. Just moving it from Colombia to the U.S. increased its value by a multiplier of 20.
The true value of cocaine, in a free market unencumbered by governments declaring it illegal, would be on par with similar agricultural products. Cocaine should cost the same as cocoa, vanilla, or coffee. “Legalizing cocaine turns it back into farm produce,” Mel explained. “Just another tropical plant processed into powder. Your $20 rock would cost less than a dollar,” Mel said as he peered over his glasses, “and believe me, nobody’s doin’ no robbin’, stealin’, or killin’ over a handful of one dollar bills.”
Mel had sixty years for dealing six grams of cocaine. Ten years per gram. Had cocaine offenses been classified the same as most alcohol offenses, as misdemeanors, his six grams may have warranted 60 days in jail – if he had been dealing at all.
I imagined legalization’s effect on the prison system. In Indiana, 24.9% were imprisoned for drug offenses, consuming $180 million of the state’s $720 million IDOC budget. Nationwide, 21% of prisoners were in for drugs – nearly half a million prisoners in federal and state prisons and jails. Legalization, if retroactive, would set them all free.
Using the thumbnail estimate that 30% of all other non-sex crimes were drug-related, the long term effect of legalization in the United States would reduce imprisonment by 41%, from 2.3 million to 1.4 million. Also gone would be millions of crimes committed every year – burglaries, thefts, robberies, murders – in exchange for society tolerating drug abuse the same way they tolerate alcohol abuse.
Seemed like a good trade-off to me.
If you’d like to contact Ty directly, please write to:
Ty Evans #158293
1 Park Row
Michigan City, IN 46360