Anyone who has watched writer David Simon’s HBO television series The Wire is familiar with the term “Hamsterdam.” Hamsterdam refers to a section of Baltimore where the sale and consumption of drugs are legal on the show.
Hamsterdam came about because the drug trade on mainstream street corners became too disruptive to everyday citizens. People were murdered and taxpayers moved out of the city to the neighboring county to avoid violence and drug culture. As a result, a rogue cop created Hamsterdam, comprised of empty row houses where the drug trade is legal and regulated for violence.
Hamsterdam was incredibly successful. Street corners were peaceful. Crime decreased by 14 percent in the district. Groups that distributed clean needles and condoms set up in Hamsterdam and reached people in the shadowy underworld of the drug trade that were once unreachable. Narcotics Anonymous set up in Hamsterdam and saw an influx of members looking to stop drug use. Cops even started charging all mid-level dealers a tax in order to continue operating in Hamsterdam. They used this tax to buy a basketball hoop for the kids of Hamsterdam who were no longer needed to help dealers complete illegal deals.
Obviously this is a TV show, and it may not reflect what would happen if drugs were legalized, but it forces one to consider if drug prohibition does more harm than good.
One example that legalization advocates like to point out is that both President Obama and former President George W. Bush used illegal drugs. Obama wrote about using cocaine and smoking weed in his autobiography, and Bush was allegedly arrested for cocaine possession in 1972 but had his father pull strings to get the arrest expunged from records. Both men went on to become President. If either were caught and jailed, their lives would have radically changed. Additionally, Steve Jobs said that his experimentation with LSD was “one of the two or three most important things” he’d ever done, according to Timemagazine.
I hate to think about what other potential-filled, otherwise law-abiding citizens drug prohibition has barred from contributing to society. Institutionalization should be reserved for those who will negatively affect society if left free. Drug users are not a threat to society. Overcrowded jails, clogged justice systems, and dead law enforcement officials are not appropriate sacrifices to prevent people from getting high.
Additionally, according to a study by California State University Bakersfield, the size of the undocumented, untaxed black market for drugs in the U.S. is $475 billion. That’s 3 percent of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Economists should be going crazy for legalization. A 3 percent GDP bump would bring in a lot of revenue, especially because drugs would be subject to additional excise taxes like alcohol and tobacco.
Currently, drug legalization in the U.S. is incredibly unbalanced. Alcohol and tobacco attain legal status while drugs that, according to The Economist, are less addictive and harmful — like ecstasy, marijuana, LSD, and shrooms — are illegal. If alcohol and tobacco are legal, there is no legitimate justification for these less harmful drugs to be illegal.
Finally, it’s quite possible that the positive effects of drug legalization outlined in The Wire, could happen. We could document and discourage drug use. Safe practices could be promoted and people could discover a way out of drug culture. Also, with drugs out in the open, the Food and Drug Administration could regulate drugs for safety and make sure people looking for heroin don’t get rat poison. There are a lot of really good potential effects to smart drug legalization.
Realistically, drugs won’t be legal anytime soon, and blanket legalization of all drugs everywhere would have very immediate, very harmful consequences. What the government can do in the meantime is to eliminate all federal laws restricting drug possession. Many states already have laws making these drugs illegal, so nothing would immediately change.
Over time, states and cities looking to experiment with new ways to deal with drugs could try different policies. If they worked, other states would follow suit. Washington and Colorado recently legalized marijuana, but those laws technically mean nothing because it’s still federally illegal to possess, use, or sell marijuana anywhere in the country. These contradictory laws should not prevent states from experimenting with legitimate ways to find peace in the war on drugs.
The original article can be found here.