Thursday, February 22, 2007

The War on Tobacco

People who support the criminalization of drug usage often note that drugs and crime are correlated. They claim the causation is that drugs cause crime. People who support the decriminalization of drugs say the general causality is the illegality of drugs cause crime, not the drugs themselves.

California has recently banned tobacco usage in prisons. This allows for testing on whether tobacco causes crime or the illegality of it does.

There's no if, and or butt about it: California's ban on tobacco in prisons has produced a burgeoning black market behind bars, where a pack of smokes can fetch up to $125.

Prison officials who already have their hands full keeping drugs and weapons away from inmates now are spending time tracking down tobacco smugglers, some of them guards and other prison employees. Fights over tobacco have broken out -- at one Northern California prison guards had to use pepper spray to break up a brawl among 30 inmates.....

At California Correctional Center in Lassen County, officials reported more than 60 tobacco offenses among inmate crews at the institution's work camps in December, Associate Warden Matt Mullin said. The same month, cigarettes triggered a brawl between 30 Hispanic and white inmates on a high-security yard. Follow-up interviews with inmates revealed the dispute was over control of tobacco sales....

At Folsom State Prison, a cook quit last year after he was caught walking onto prison grounds with several plastic bags filled with rolling tobacco in his jacket. He told authorities he was earning more smuggling tobacco -- upwards of $1,000 a week -- than he did in his day job....

Chuck Alexander, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said lawmakers should either roll back the prohibition or add stronger penalties.

"It didn't do anything but make (tobacco) a lucrative business," he said.
HT: Steven Levitt


B Tween said...

As long as cost/benefits relationships apply there will be a market. You could be talking about widgets and come to the same conclusion.
Nicotine addiction is powerful, moreso that alcohol or most illegal drugs. They say harder to kick than cocaine and heroin.
So, an underground trade in nicotine? Duh.
Did the prison make nicotine substitutes like the patch, nasal spray, gum or tablets available?
Or did they simply say 'no more nicotine!'?

If the trade was so robust so quickly, my guess would be the latter.

So what do you expect? And what is your point?

David said...

I can see where you are coming from b_tween but I think the point is that banning any substance creates more crime, including spillover crimes such as theft and violence.

Prohibition funded gang wars, mass violence and, on top of it all, people still had alcohol (surely some of people didn't drink because of the increased costs, but some people surely did more because benefits also changed--bonuses from the thrill of breaking the law).

Without bans, we get people doing X. With bans, we still have people doing X (maybe a little less, but maybe a little more) and violence. Warren's example echoes the Prohibition conclusion.

b tween said...

Indeed, Prohibition was a great example of that, but here's the paradox...

Pot is illegal largely because of the tremendous amount of money the alcohol companies and pharmaceutical companies spend lobbying lawmakers at the state and federal level.

So, what do you do?

Create regulations to ban lobbying?
Create regulations to ban drugs?

Politicians aren't likely to create laws that inhibit their own pursuit of money and power, so until something changes, the laws will regulate the drugs.

Clearly it's their version of the lesser of 2 evils, but what would you propose from a limited government perspective? How can you get rid of both evils?

David said...

Actually, the money that goes to keeping pot illegal is about half the reason for it's state. The other half comes from the moral rhetoric, the reasons politicians cite when they speak about its ban. It's actually a powerful example of the bootleggers and Baptists. Tell everyone the rhetoric is absurd and you just made it a lot harder to justify--in a political capacity--the regulation.

B Tween said...

This got me thinking about the inequities of taxation and the free pass black marketeers get. I wrote a fairly detailed summary of an idea on my blog (which you can reach by clicking on my name above - the post is called "Tax Death"). I'd be interested in your opinion of it.
I happen to think it's pretty good, and even though we view the world through different colored lenses, I suspec you might too.

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