Tis Only My Opinion

September 2001 - Volume 21, Number 9

Thinking outside the Box for Solutions

For most of the last 50 years or so, our legislators have continued to write bills that pay lip service to our country's problems and don't really attack them. Rather than solving the issues, they put band-aids on the economy's problems. Recently, I asked a Senator about a bill he had Co-Sponsored. Unfortunately, he was unfamiliar with the contents of the bill and finally admitted that one of his assistants had the responsibility for the language which was attributed to him. Ah, the power of Congressional aides and lobbyists. Sometimes, I wonder who elected these servants of the people.

The Farm Subsidy Fiasco

Most any observer knows that farm legislation since the 1930's has led to decreases in farm population, farm income and increased regulation. In August, President Bush signed a $5.5 billion supplemental farm bill to provide some relief to farmers. For many small to medium size farm operations growing grain, the farm subsidy means the difference between going bankrupt and trying to hang on for another year.

A study in 1993 entitled Growing Green: Enhancing the Economic and Environmental Performance of U.S. Agriculture, demonstrated that simply cutting the existing $10 billion subsidy program in half would protect the environment almost as well as "green payments"--paying farmers to adopt "greener" production methods--at far less cost to taxpayers. Study author Paul Faeth noted that subsidies to seven crops (corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats, rice, and cotton) have totaled more than $135 billion since 1984. The funding made up 26 percent of all farm income in 1993 and is widely defended as essential to rural development and to farmers' livelihoods.

In 1995, when the last Freedom to Farm bill was enacted, a group called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimated that at least $1.1 billion in "Freedom to Farm" payments would be made over the next 7 years to recipients who do not even live in the same state in which their farms are located. Farm subsidies paid out in the United States over the period 1996 to 1998, amounted to $ 22.856 billion, a study in 2000 by EWG showed. And more than 60% of these federal farm subsidies under the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 went to the top 10% of farmers and landowners or an average of $100,000 each, while the bottom 90% of the farmers got just $6900 for the three years. The study, "Green Acre$: How taxpayers are Subsidizing the Demise of the Family Farm," can be found on their website: www.ewg.org. The study covers payments under four headings under the 1996 'Freedom to Farm' law enacted by the US Congress: the Freedom to Farm contracts, the Market Loss Assistance, the Loan Deficiency and Market Gains.

Over the three-year period, these payments jumped from a total of $5.973 billion in 1996 to $6.120 billion in 1997 and $10.764 billion in 1998. The growth in the farm subsidy program is staggering and expected to cost the taxpayer $22.9 billion in fiscal 2001. A breakdown of these payments since 1997 can be seen here.

Despite the farm program cost increases, the number of family farms is decreasing.

The farm bill is up for renewal and offers just more of the same types of proposals albeit with a conservation twist. However, it should be stated that the US consumer has the best food quality in the world and pays the smallest amount of their income stream for food of any nation. But young farmers can not enter the business because of the high capital costs required.

The last farm bill was sold to the farm states with the proviso that the government would energetically sell the excess production on world markets. Unfortunately, that part of the bill was not implemented by the Clinton Administration.

As the farmer bloc vote is diminished due to larger farms and more urban voters, we hear a growing cry about the cost of farm subsidies by the US taxpayer. Of course, they fail to understand that their cost of food is also the lowest cost as a percent of income in the world and one main reason is that the subsidy program keeps prices low by enabling producers to grow more food than is required.

In the early 1960's, I served on a task force that wrote PL-480 which took payment for commodities in the local currency of the nation. With a large portion of the world suffering from hunger, our government could have increased funding in PL-480 programs to receive local currencies as payment for excess foodstuffs, thus improving the price levels in the US. And if they were sharp traders, they could have utilized those funds to trade for other commodities and/or requirements.

In Brazil and Argentina, our government since 1992 via the Export-Import Bank provided huge guaranteed loans so that railroads and bridges could be built to enable foreign soybean and corn growers to more efficiently compete in the world markets. Since 1980, production of soybeans in those countries has increased substantially and they account now for about 40% of the world's production. The cost of soybean production in South America is also lower than in the US. Sometimes, I wonder if anyone is really looking at the overall impact of economic decisions or are they only interested in their personal fiefdoms?.

The Drug War Fiasco

Do you really believe the War on Drugs has been successful? If so, may I sell you an ocean-view lot in downtown Des Moines. According to the Office of Drug Control Policy:

"Between 1989 and 1998, American users spent $39 billion to $77 billion yearly on cocaine and $10 billion to $22 billion yearly on heroin. Marijuana added about another $10 billion per year and methamphetamines about $2 billion. "

It is estimated that sales of "illegal drugs" in the US amounts to $100 billion or so a year. And of course, the amount of sales tax and income tax collected on the sale of those "illegal drugs" is almost infinitesimal. By the federal government's estimates, they did not receive any taxes from the approximately $49 billion to $110 billion spent on just these four illegal drugs. Of course, they did receive money from all the asset forfeiture cases and the resale of those illegal drugs (just kidding, or am I?) The DEA itself concedes that 80% of asset seizures are from individuals who are not charged or convicted of any crime. Yet, government procedures makes it nearly impossible to get the assets back with significant delays and legal costs. Some cynics might suggest that is a nice way to run a railroad, pun intended

Despite the huge increases in the budget for the DEA, FBI, local police departments and various task forces, the amount of drugs entering the US continues to increase. One result is that the prison population of the US is the highest per capita in the world. Now that is what one might consider efficient government in action. But at what cost?

Senior Judge John L. Kane of the U.S. District Court of Denver, Colorado stated in a speech before the Western Governors’ Association in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 15, 2000 that

"Drug prohibition doesn’t work. In 1914 when drugs like cocaine were available on grocery shelves, 1.3% of the population was addicted. In 1979, before the so-called "War on Drugs" crackdown, the addiction rate was still 1.3%. Today, while billions of dollars are being spent to reduce drug use, the addiction rate is still 1.3%. Yet America imprisons 100,000 more persons for drug offenses than the entire European Union imprisons for all offenses. The European Union has 100 million more citizens than the U.S.""

Each year since 1989, more people have been sent to prison for drug offenses than for violent crimes. At the same time only one in five burglaries is reported and only one in 20 reported burglaries ends in arrest and yet detectives continue to be reassigned from burglary details to investigation of street sales of drugs."

"Drug prohibition is also a waste of money. Local, state and federal governments now spend over $9 billion per year to imprison 458,131 drug offenders. Incarcerating all cocaine users for a year would cost $74 billion, but only after constructing 3.5 million more prison beds at an initial cost of $175 billion. It would cost $365 billion to jail everyone who smoked marijuana last year – five times the total state and local spending for all police, courts and prisons. We would need a cadre of guards and other prison employees larger than all of our military forces. This is a cost we cannot afford and a project we could never accomplish even if we had the money."

Cost of the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs has also been used to erode many of the safeguards provided by the framers of the Constitution. The Asset Forfeiture laws basically violate the concept that one is "innocent until proven guilty." There is almost no accountability for the large amount of funds seized under these Asset Forfeiture laws. The various law enforcement agencies retain the proceeds and the public is prevented from knowing where the funds are used.

Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico is probably the first of many politicians who is finally stating the truth about the cost of the war on drugs.

"In 1981, the federal government spent about $1.5 billion on the drug war. Today, we spend almost $20 billion a year at the federal level, with the states spending at least that much again. In 1980, the federal government arrested a few hundred thousand people on drug charges; today we arrest 1.6 million people a year for drug offenses. Yet we still have a drug problem. Should we continue until the federal government spends $40 billion and arrests 3.2 million people a year for drugs? What about $80 billion and 6.4 million arrests?"

"The logical conclusion of this is that we'll be spending the entire gross national product on drug-law enforcement and still not be addressing our drug problem. I believe the costs outweigh the benefits."

"A study by the RAND Corporation shows that every dollar spent on treatment instead of imprisonment saves $7 in state costs. Treatment is significantly more effective at reducing drug use than jail and prison. I believe the most cost-effective way to deal with nonviolent drug users would be to stop prosecuting them, and instead to make an effective spectrum of treatment services available to those who request it. No-knock raids continue to escalate throughout the US and often result in innocent people being murdered by SWAT teams who don't have the correct address. The militarization of the law enforcement agencies has grown immensely during the past ten years."

"We need to reform our drug policies. The goal should be to help those addicted to drugs to find a better way. The answer is not imprisonment and legal attack. The answer lies in sentencing reform, in supplying treatment on demand, and in delivering honest drug education to our kids. We need policies that reflect what we know about drug addiction rather than policies that seek to punish it. The days of a drug war waged against our people should come to an end."

The federal government spends billions of dollars on the War on Drugs. Approximately 50% of all inmates in local, county, state and federal prisons are there for some type of drug offense. The average cost to incarcerate an inmate for a year is between $25,000 to $40,000 depending upon whose figures are used yet it is much cheaper to provide treatment to many of those incarcerated by the justice system.

Since the days of "Just Say No," this domestic quagmire has lasted longer than the Vietnam War. It has killed, detained and bullied innocent citizens and non-violent offenders in a futile campaign to vacuum every last cannabis seed from America's streets. This fool's errand isn't cheap. Between 1990 and 1999 alone, federal anti-drug law-enforcement activities have cost taxpayers $81 billion. States and cities have spent even more. Meanwhile, low-cost drugs have become even more plentiful.

Did Prohibition stop drinking?

I think the honest answer to that is a resounding "NO." In fact, many studies indicate that drinking increased during the Prohibition experiment. When the Prohibition amendment was overturned, did drinking increase. The answer is it actually decreased. However, during the Prohibition period, this country saw a large increase in the power of organized crime. Upon its demise, many of the bootleggers became "legitimate" and began careers which eventually led several members of their family to political offices. The Kennedy family is just one family that owes its fortune to Prohibition.

How many people a year are killed by drugs?

The number of drug deaths in the US in a typical year is as follows:

  • Tobacco kills about 390,000.
  • Alcohol kills about 80,000.
  • Sidestream smoke from tobacco kills about 50,000.
  • Cocaine kills about 2,200.
  • Heroin kills about 2,000.
  • Aspirin kills about 2,000.
  • Marijuana kills 0.

There has never been a recorded death due to marijuana at any time in US history. All illegal drugs combined kill about 4,500 people per year, or about one percent of the number killed by alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco kills more people each year than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last century.

What does it cost to put a single drug dealer in jail?

The cost to put a single drug dealer in jail is about $450,000, composed of the following:

  • The cost for arrest and conviction is about $150,000.
  • The cost for an additional prison bed is about $50,000 to $150,000, depending upon the jurisdiction.
  • It costs about $30,000 per year to house a prisoner. With an average sentence of 5 years, that adds up to another $150,000.

The same $450,000 can provide treatment or education for about 200 people. In addition, putting a person in prison produces about fifteen dollars in related welfare costs, for every dollar spent on incarceration. Every dollar spent on treatment and education saves about five dollars in related welfare costs.

Follow the money

The list of organizations that depend upon the War on Drugs for their being is legion. Besides the LEO's, there is a vast network of companies involved in one aspect of the War on Drug via contracts, probation officers, prison builders, the medical profession, lawyers, monitoring companies, etc. The War on Drugs benefits these organizations and they are largely opposed to its elimination. Hence, any type of effort to legalize drugs will be in a major political fight.

Do the illegal drugs have any legitimate uses?

Heroin is a powerful pain-killer and could be used to control extreme chronic pain or the pain of severe diseases, such as cancer. The medical literature shows that
heroin is significantly less hazardous than most of the drugs which are given in its place.

Cocaine is used as a topical anesthetic in medicine.

There are about 50,000 products which can be made from the marijuana (hemp) plant. It has been used since the dawn of history for the widest variety of uses. These uses include fibers, fuels, materials, and medicine. The first American laws regarding marijuana were passed in the 1700's and required farmers to grow hemp (marijuana) because of its tremendous commercial value for dozens of uses. It was grown throughout the United States as a commercial product well into the 1940's. It was made illegal in 1937 largely as a result of pressure from oil and chemical companies who feared the competition from marijuana. Despite the laws, during World War II marijuana was considered so vital to the national interest that the US Government exempted farmers from military duty if they grew marijuana. Local 4-H clubs were encouraged to have their members grow marijuana and the US Government produced a film called "Hemp for Victory"'

Marijuana produces fibers which are ideal for ropes, cloth, paper, and dozens of other products. The fiber is unusually strong, soft, absorbent and cheap to produce. If we grew marijuana solely for paper production, we could completely eliminate cutting forests for paper. Marijuana produces eighty times as much usable fiber per acre as a comparable stand of forest.

Marijuana can produce several different kinds of fuel. In the 1800's and 1900's hempseed oil was the primary source of fuel in the United States and was commonly used for lamps and other oil energy needs. The diesel engine was originally designed to run on marijuana oil because Rudolf Diesel assumed that it would be the most common fuel. Marijuana is also the most efficient plant for the production of methanol. It is estimated that, in one form or another, marijuana grown in the United States could provide up to ninety percent of the nation's entire energy needs.

Marijuana is useful for a wide variety of medical problems and, according the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chief Administrative Law Judge, "marijuana is probably the safest therapeutically active substance known to man," and "it is safer than many of the foods we commonly eat." Marijuana is often the most effective treatment for chronic pain, glaucoma, nausea from chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other medical conditions.

So what's the solution or killing two birds with one stone?

Now that is easy if you are not afraid of stepping on a few sacred cows.

First, legalize the sale of all drugs.

Second, eliminate the Federal Drug administration. Their record in approving drugs despite years of review and studies is not one to cite as an example of a great record. About the only thing you can say about the FDA's record is that it causes serious delays in getting products to market and increases the cost of the drug substantially to the consumer.

Third, allow US farmers to grow any crop they want without restriction including marijuana, hemp, and white powder. Hemp is a natural weed in Iowa and many other places. Even if we discounted the current price for the product 50%, hemp would be the most profitable product per acre. Let the American farmer plant the crops that make heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. It only makes sense that if they can grow those crops instead of crops that now require federal subsidies to break-even, the farmer will make the switch. And we could receive tax revenue from its sale and eliminate the farm subsidy program.

Fourth, sell the drugs over the counter in pharmacies and drug stores and control the usage in treatment centers rather than crack houses.

Is this a serious look outside the box at two very different problems?

You be the judge. But it does get us thinking about the alternatives to the present highly unworkable programs for both farm income and illegal drugs that have created a very difficult problem for this nation.

Sometimes you have to step back from the forest to see the trees.

But then - 'Tis Only My Opinion!

Fred Richards
September 2001

Corruptisima republica plurimae leges. [The more corrupt a republic, the more laws.] -- Tacitus, Annals III 27

This issue of 'Tis Only My Opinion was copyrighted by Adrich Corporation in September 2001.
All rights reserved. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.
Tis Only My Opinion is intended to provoke thinking, then dialogue among our readers.


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