By Mark David Blum, Esq.
At a TownHall Meeting yesterday in Syracuse, our governor sat and told us of the fiscal woes that strangle the State from doing business. He told of a Billion dollar shortfall and how deep and severe cuts are going to happen. Nothing is safe. Amongst the Governor’s first targets was education. State and local government are going to gut and slash the education budget. Expect the typical: First thing they do, is fire all the teachers. Second thing they do, is raise your property taxes. Finally, year after year, they abandon projects and programs designed to help kids while School District leaders feel their pensions fatten. We must be “high” to continually tolerate such bizarre and wasteful spending.
I have a solution to at least half the State’s fiscal problem as it impacts our local market. Here in Syracuse and right in the Mayor’s lap is $10 million immediately available to infuse into area schools and education. This is within grasp and will not require an increase in taxes nor cut in services. All that is needed is a simple reorganization. Since the Governor cannot see the simple solution to the State’s budget woes, allow me.
Here in Syracuse alone, the former City Auditor, Minch Lewis did a detailed and in depth analysis of the City Budget outlays. In doing so, he realized and made clear that more than ONE THIRD of all police resources were being expended in the enforcement of Prohibition. If the City managers were to sit down and isolate the dollars being spent on a failed policy, I am confident millions of dollars could be salvaged and redirected toward more needy and productive programs. Nationally, local police spending represented 31.1% of the Nation's total justice expenditure, and State corrections accounted for the second largest portion, 23.7%." (Gifford, Sidra Lea, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1999, Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, February 2002, p. 4).
Presently, the entire Syracuse City Police Department has an annual operating budget of approximately $32 million. One third of that saved and redirected would have a substantial impact on crime, provide funding for schools and infrastructure, and ease tensions in society. The Common Council already knows this and has held hearings thereon.
This idea is not unique to me nor is it the battlecry of the pothead. Back in 1918, New York State was blessed with a four-term governor and one-time presidential candidate named Al Smith. During the era of alcohol prohibition, Governor Smith realized the futility and excessive costs of enforcing this national policy and concluded that New York was not going to participate. The governor refused to enforce the prohibition laws in New York; by not providing State police or State agencies the power to participate. In the end, the federal government did the only prohibition enforcement in New York. In 2008, our Governor surrenders the fort and pays for a war he knows we cannot win and which is bleeding us dry.
I do not intend to change your attitudes toward drug use and drug abuse. For many people, their minds are made up one way or another. We must realize that despite 30 years of warfare against Americans, billions of dollars being spent, millions of people imprisoned, use remains constant. More than 108.25 million Americans aged 12 or over (46% of the US population aged 12 and over) have used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies, Sept. 2003, p. 199, Table H.1 & p. 200, Table H.2). Also, according to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 35.1 million Americans aged 12 or over (14.9% of the US population aged 12 and over) had used an illicit drug during the previous year. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies, Sept. 2003, p. 199, Table H.7 & p. 205).
Prohibition does not work and its social and economic costs are staggering. For example: According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, federal spending on the drug war in 2001 totaled $18.095 Billion, rising to $18.822 Billion in 2002 and $19.179 Billion for 2003. (Office of National Drug Control Policy, "National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2003 Budget Summary", Washington, DC: Office of the President, February 2002, Table 2, p. 6). Further, the RAND Corporation study found that additional domestic law enforcement efforts cost 15 times as much as treatment to achieve the same reduction in societal costs. (Rydell, C.P. & Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army, Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Corporation, 1994, p. xvi). From what I understand, New York’s last budget cut every single Department’s budget except the Department of Corrections which realized a 3% increase in funding.
Of course, changing our laws is a legislative act. I have no confidence that either of these two bodies will change the laws; though, hope always springs eternal. There is too much political special interest from police and prison guard unions whose incomes, retirement plans, vacation homes, and children’s education would be jeopardized if there was a change in policy. The pharmaceutical industry has a huge financial investment in maintaining the status quo. Even your income and mine is partially dependent on the continuation of this farce. To that special interest community and their demand we keep spreading the wealth, our Governor panders while the rest of us starve and our children lose out on education.
Up until recently, I have tried to make my point to end prohibition by discussing the human impact. The concerns I had over the human toll of incarceration, loss of constitutional protections through the courts’ “drug exception” to the 4th Amendment, and the concept of a “war” against Americans never seemed to have an impact. The problem is that people just do not care about human costs. Shifting the analysis to the financial costs of prohibition makes it all the more obvious that something has to be changed or we are going to continue our downward spiral of higher taxes and reduced services.
No, I do not advocate the use of drugs. Drugs are bad. Do not do drugs. But, as the empirical data reveals, drug use is going to continue in society. People are going to choose to live their lives and for the most part, manage to do so without any negative impact upon society. A drug user is not a drug abuser any more than an alcohol drinker is an alcoholic. The relative percentage of each defeats the argument that all drug users are abusers. While a change in policy may yield a higher percentage of drug abusers (a fact wholly disputed by experts), nevertheless, the costs of treatment are substantially lower than the costs of enforcement. Consider that domestic enforcement costs 4 times as much as treatment for a given amount of user reduction, 7 times as much for consumption reduction, and 15 times as much for societal cost reduction. (Rydell, C.P. & Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army, Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Corporation, 1994, p. xvi). According to CASA (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse), the cost of proven treatment for inmates, accompanied by education, job training and health care, would average about $6,500 per inmate. For each inmate that becomes a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen, the economic benefit is $68,800. Even if only one in 10 inmates became a law-abiding citizen after this investment, there would still be a net social gain of $3,800. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America's Prison Population, New York, NY: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, January 8, 1998, Foreword by Joseph Califano). It has also been shown that treatment decreased welfare use by 10.7% and increased employment by 18.7% after one year, according to the 1996 National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study. (Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment, National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study, Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1996, p. 11).
Instead of a massive property tax hike and cut in services, what I recommend is that the State of New York do what it knows is right and ‘opt-out’ of prohibition. Stop arresting people for use and possession. Stop throwing people out of their homes and jobs. Stop denying people the benefit of medical attention or job training or welfare because of a drug conviction or positive drug test. Let the federal agencies come in and enforce the drug laws. Call the feds when a felony drug arrest is made and let them pay the cost of prosecution and maintenance. Disband the drug task forces. Redirect the monies toward the productive citizens of the County.
Or, you can keep raising taxes and destroying those institutions built for the next generation. New York’s government is on a path to leave a legacy of abandonment and ignorance. Our priorities are in disarray.