Chapter 37

Copyright© 2015 by Colin Barrett


Spook and Richard were at it again, this time over anti-drug laws.

It wasn't that they were arguing, Spook didn't argue. What he did was ask provocative questions and then challenge the answers, which I suppose came to pretty much the same thing if you were on the receiving end. In the colleges it was called "the Socratic method," after Socrates of ancient Greece who reportedly taught in that manner.

There were times when I thought it scant wonder that at the end of his quarrelsome life Socrates had been required by the citizenry of Athens to drink poison.

And having been on that end of Spook's Socratic emulation myself kind of a lot, I took a little pleasure in listening to him sock it to somebody else. Mostly Richard and Spook were in general agreement about things, and I sometimes got a little bored by such conversations and walked away, but when the sparks started flying it was great fun, and the "war on drugs" had got those sparks seriously sailing around.

Richard had started it, if inadvertently. Spook had called with yet another tip about an incipient crime, and after taking down the information Richard had idly mentioned that his latest project was trying to shut down drug rings. "Keep your eye out in that area, Jack," he said. "We can really use some help there."

"I will not call you on this subject," Spook replied.

"Why?" asked Richard curiously. "Don't you have an access to that kind of information?"

"I have access," Spook told him. "It is that I think such laws are foolish. I will not assist in enforcing foolish laws against crimes that are merely constructs of human society, crimes that injure no person."

Richard didn't even suggest a return call this time, he just went right into it. Maybe the cell wasn't being monitored any more, or he'd got his bosses used to such discussions, or he just didn't give a shit. But half the time these days he was prepared for talking whenever Spook or I called; and even the returns were now from either the cell or his home phone.

"Jack, it's a fallacy that drug crimes are victimless," he said. "For just one thing, give a little thought to the poor men and women who wind up getting hooked on crack or speed or heroin or even worse, angel dust and so on."

"This is their own choice," Spook shot back. "No criminal compels them to make use of these drugs, nor to maintain such use once begun. I understand that some are addictive, but is it not true that many have conquered such addictions?"

"If the supply dried up there wouldn't be any addicts. Can't you see that?"

"Supply will not cease so long as demand for drugs exists. Laws cannot make demand to cease. You make it a crime to possess such drugs even in small quantities, as well as to sell them to others, and yet demand remains and grows. Do you not recognize that such laws are ineffective?"

"We're making progress," Richard protested. "Certainly a lot more progress than we'd make if there weren't any laws, if the stuff were readily available. And what about all the drug-related crimes, the stealing and worse, by people who do it to support their drug habits?"

"Laws make such crimes more likely, not less," said Spook. "Most such drugs are comparatively inexpensive to produce. By making them illegal laws drive the price very high to users by adding many costs such as smuggling, paying bribes and other expenses associated with avoiding capture and incarceration. The high cost forces users to enter into such behaviors as you describe. Without laws the cost would be greatly lower, and crimes would therefore be fewer."

I had to agree with Spook there. But Richard still wasn't buying.

"And there'd be a lot more addicts," he said flatly. "That's where your argument fails. You lower the price, you increase demand and the price goes right back up, and now there are more people doing the same crimes for the same reason."

"No, there is a calculable limit to change in demand," Spook retorted. "Such studies as have been made indicate that perhaps fifteen to twenty percent of humans may be physiologically or psychiatrically inclined to what is termed 'substance abuse.' Deduct from this an undetermined number of those who possess this tendency but choose to resist it and the result is a smaller number. If drugs were allowed to move freely in commerce even present production would easily satisfy such demand without supply constraints to elevate the price; and without laws production would naturally increase substantially."

"That's pretty speculative, isn't it?" asked Richard.

"Not at all," Spook said. "I offer an example from the recent history of this country when alcohol was prohibited. People did not cease drinking alcohol, the new law merely caused an increase in prices. In addition, although alcohol also has addictive properties, the proportion of those considered alcoholics did not increase greatly when the law was repealed."

"Well, alcohol's different."

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