“We know drugs and crime go hand in hand,” said attorney general Jeff Sessions on Thursday, when he spoke at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Heroin and Opioid Response Summit in Charleston, W.Va. He continued to draw a link between drugs and violent crime, saying, “people try to suggest otherwise, but those of us in the business know drugs and crime go hand in hand.”
“Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business,” explained the attorney general. “If you want to collect a drug debt, you don’t file a lawsuit in district court. I mean, it’s strong-arm tactics or you can’t stay in business — in the drug business.”
Sessions is right. Those in the illicit drug business don’t file a lawsuit in district court. But many advocates for drug policy reform continue to point out that violence is associated with the drug trade precisely because dealers can’t take their grievances to court.
While the attorney general didn’t mention cannabis at the opioid summit, he’s made the same argument before: “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think. You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” said Sessions in a briefing with reporters in February.
At the time, advocates were quick to point out that states with legal recreational marijuana have not seen an uptick in violent crime.
“The attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not,” cannabis advocate Tom Angell said in a statement.
Indeed, after Portugal decriminalized all drugs (including heroin) in 2001, “decriminalization does not appear to have caused an increase in crimes typically associated with drugs,” according Transform, a British drug policy think tank and advocacy group.
Besides the fact that the country did not see a huge jump in violent crime, the country has seen numerous public health benefits post-decriminalization: drug use has fallen, the rate of HIV rates have fallen, and overdose deaths have fallen. “Portugal’s current drug-induced death rate, three per million residents, is more than five times lower than the European Union’s average of 17.3,” reports Vice News.
Attorney general Sessions also praised Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign and the D.A.R.E. programs that started in the ’80s.
“Many of these programs may not have been the most sophisticated. But it helped, and over time we developed more and more sophisticated prevention programs,” he said. “Messaging programs that have been proven scientifically to work. That research and that data is out there.”
In reality, scientific evidence suggests otherwise. A meta-analysis of 20 controlled studies on the efficacy of D.A.R.E. found that young people who were enrolled in the program were just as likely to use drugs as those who were not.
Of course, Sessions couldn’t resist taking a dig at “drug abusers” in his speech.
“Drug abusers also have an economic impact — they miss work. And when they do work, they don’t work well.”