Advice From A Drug Dealer
Criminal Addiction: Pragmatic Solutions vs Conservative Strategies
I was a drug dealer throughout the 90s –a big one. I trafficked marijuana in small and large quantities across Canada and south of the border. Now, I am a reformed, honest, tax-paying student with an informed concern over the drug-control policies of the Conservative Party. Having financially sustained myself for more than a decade within the narcotic industry, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the economics involved. I therefore feel it necessary to warn those who voted for the Conservative Party –those believing Harper’s drug-prohibition stance, that his policies will have the opposite effect intended.
Please don’t immediately write this argument off as more liberal-biased rhetoric. I would like nothing more than to see drugs off our streets and the criminals that market them locked away from society. I am no bleeding-heart liberal when it comes to dealing with what has quickly become the most pressing and persistent societal crisis in western culture –addiction. One good look at the circumstance facing business owners, health-care workers, police, courts and individuals who live and work in our inner cities will tell you this is certainly a crisis that needs addressing in an aggressive fashion. Realistic and pragmatic solutions based on empirical evidence must be pursued wholeheartedly. Populist strategies based on fear and reified, antiquated initiatives will only exacerbate the problem, waste more precious tax dollars and lead us right back to where we stand now –helpless.
Now, a little lesson in the economics of the drug industry and the values of those financially dependent on it –the more drugs cost, the more money there is to be made. The more money there is to be made, the more organized and aggressive drug dealers become. Exactly like any legal commodities market, the price of drugs is based on supply and demand. When it is harder to supply drugs, the cost goes up proportionally. If the sentences and risk associated with dealing drugs increases, the drugs become more valuable. If drugs cost more, the addict becomes forced to engage in more fiscally-lucrative criminal activities. Rather than beg for change throughout the day to get $20 to buy enough heroin for the night, the addict will pursue methods of acquiring larger amounts of cash. Shoplifting, vehicle theft, drug dealing, prostitution and breaking and entering homes are the first line of options for those seeking easy money. If the heroin costs $40 instead of $20, the addict will get $40. If the heroin costs $200, they will get that amount of money by any method possible. Regardless of the cost of the drugs, the risk of incarceration or the damage done to society, the addict will find a means to satisfy their quest to get high. I guarantee it.
So, if knee-jerk, reactionary policies based on fear and outdated punitive paradigms fail us, then what is the answer? There are a few. First of all, our provincial jails have become a breeding ground for criminal culture. The longer the sentences given to criminals, the more likely they are to re offend. That is a fact. The reason for this? When we lock up addicts for periods of 2 years less a day, they go to the provincial correctional system. Almost all drug convictions fall into this category of sentencing. Once the prisoner enters the provincial prison system, they are cut off from almost all contact with any pro-social support they may have had. Being that most first offenses elicit provincial sentences, a great deal of these offenders are young and still have some positive connections with families desperate to see their kin turn their lives around. To communicate from prison, an inmate must call collect, talk in front of all the fellow inmates and be quick about it; a long line waits impatiently to make their own phone calls. Moreover, the recipient of the collect call must pay rates far higher than the usual long-distance rates offered by regular phone companies. Even if the call is local, it will cost around 80 cents per minute. This situation isolates the inmate from the people he needs the most –his family. Just when a person is the most susceptible to hearing what is needed to change their life around from those who love and have their best interests at heart, communication becomes limited and unreasonably expensive for the people trying to help. Instead of talking to family and finding comfort and wisdom, they turn to the criminal community that surrounds them.
An inmate is socialized by the prison culture to be tough, violent and subversive to authority and they are expected to embrace the criminal life and drug subculture that landed them in prison. Any sign of rejecting these ideals is, at the least, viewed with suspicion and it is most often reacted to with violence, extortion and coercion. Cut off from any significant pro-social entities, embedded in an unforgiving criminal culture, rehabilitation becomes nearly impossible. Moreover, in our provincial prison systems there are no addiction programs. You have to commit a crime that gets you at least 3 years before you stand a chance at seeking help through counseling. By the time long sentences for drug activity are handed down, it is often too late for mandated drug treatment programs to have any effect. The initial shock of going to jail has long worn off and relationships have developed with fellow inmates that displace any potential relationships with drug counselors. If we react to this situation by increasing the sentences of those in on a first offense so they reach the federal system, the already stretched resources that provide the drug-treatment programs found there will collapse; furthermore, if you pack your federal jails even tighter, the likelihood the treatment would have any effect lessens.
The real answer to this problem must be implemented in stages. The first stage is to separate the organized crime figures in our criminal justice system from their customers, the addicts. Those suffering from addiction need to be treated as victims of a disease –locked away from society where they can do no more harm, but treated as medical patients nonetheless. It should be the mandate of the criminal justice system to endeavor to fortify any pro-social connections an inmate may have in their lives. Once it has carefully been established that a family member or friend is not involved in criminal activity, every effort should be made to provide environments where positive interactions can occur. Sometimes a person needs to relearn how and why we care about our community. Someone they respect who already does can be the best teacher. If a good person cares enough to try and affect the life of a prisoner in a positive fashion, it will have more effect than any government mandated program ever could. Allow someone to care about them and they will learn to care about themselves.
The next step is to devalue the currency of criminal organizations. Legalize drugs and make them accessible for free to those mildly and hopelessly addicted. House the addict, feed them and give them the drugs they normally get through criminal actions. Do this in a manner whereby the addict becomes licensed by the government to receive the narcotics they require. The licensing will come with obligations –drug treatment, police interviews and time spent weekly with social workers who attempt to implement a recovery plan based on the unique situation of the individual involved. If an addict will risk years of freedom and their very lives to engage in criminal activity to acquire drugs, surely they will agree to this kind of obligation to get drugs for free. Implement this plan and the illegal narcotics economies that flourish in our inner cities will begin to collapse. With no one left to buy the drugs, criminal organizations will set their sights on other countries still pursuing prohibition-style strategies where drugs are more valuable. It’s as simple as that.
One would be naive if they believed any strategy will completely eradicate the addiction problem in our culture. Legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and sugar still lead the pack in lives damaged by a substance consumed. But, if we are pragmatic, realistic and willing to adapt using the wisdom espoused by the academic communities that have studied this phenomenon for decades, we are not helpless. If we resign ourselves to fear and the ideas outlined by the Conservative Party in the 63.8-million National Anti-Drug Strategy, we will remain powerless and it will demonstrate how we have learned nothing from decades of combating a drug-fueled, criminal economy; absolutely nothing.