If crack were an enjoyable drug that you could get high on without any effects, then we might comfortably reconsider its prohibition.
But some persons, who comprise a large (if unknown) percentage of all those who experiment with heroin, develop a relentless and unmanageable craving for the drug such that their life becomes organized around searching for it, using it, enjoying it, and searching for more.
(James Q. Wilson, Thinking About Crime, at p. 185.)
Crack, for example, is so addictive that many people cannot live normal lives while getting high on crack. They only want to get high, they don’t want to do anything else, and their lives fall apart. The rest of us end up choosing between caring for them or letting them die. Which is an easy choice, but we should not be in that situation in the first place. Addiction and the addicted themselves are the first problem presented by addiction.
The second problem is crime by addicts and dealers. Los Angeles City Councilman and former LAPD chief Bernard Parks noted that when drug-related arrests fall, thefts and residential burglaries rise. He said,
“People who are using drugs are also committing other crimes. How do they stay heroin users? How do they support their habit? … People don’t want to understand that I can’t be a crack addict and have a profession. Nobody’s giving me drugs. I rob and burglarize and steal.”
In 2004, 17% of state prisoners and 18% of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs. In 2002 about a quarter of convicted property and drug offenders in local jails had committed their crimes to get money for drugs, compared to 5% of violent and public order offenders.
Drug dealing is even more of a problem. Again, crack is an instructive example. Crack was, and to a lesser extent still is, dealt on street corners. It is bought and sold in the open. Crack dealers violently complete over these corners and sales territory in general. Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous to the people that live in those neighborhoods. Crack is valuable and can be easily stolen, but the police aren’t available to protect a crack dealer when he has been robbed, so a gun is a virtual necessity. Guns on the street are inherently dangerous.
The opioid epidemic is a real problem. 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. By contrast, 37,461 people were killed in traffic collisions. Given the gravity of the problem, we should be doing everything we can to prevent people from illegally possessing opioids. We should be punishing the dealers of illegal opioids with punishment that reflects the seriousness of the crime. If the punishment must fit the crime, we should not go easy on those who poison such a large number of our friends and neighbors.