Saturday, January 19, 2008

Go for it Gavin

Frustrated with the SF's continuing homicide spike, Mayor Gavin Newsom is reported (see Jaxon Van Derbeken's article in today's SFChron) to have ordered drug investigators to drop their cases and hit the streets of the city's high violence neighborhoods. Unlike our national and state leaders, Mayor Newsom cannot ignore violence in his city. He is said to have been particularly roiled by the murder of anti-violence activist Terrell "Terray" Rogers outside a girls basketball game last Saturday.

The Mayor is absolutely right to recognize that stopping the violence is far more important than drug investigations; or for that matter investigating the survivors of the Christmas Day tiger attack in a misguided effort to pin the death of 17 year old Carlos Sousa on his friends (that investigation has also thankfully be shelved according to another story by Van Derbeken). But he is creeping up on a far deeper and more troubling paradox. It is precisely the disastrous decision by our national leaders to hand the irrepressible market in recreational drugs (like marijuana and cocaine) to juvenile criminals that fuels the violence. Would these young men whose predictable cycles of honor based conflict leave bodies in SF streets be so cocky, so reckless, and so well armed if they were not flush with the rewards of the drug trade?

If you could buy marijuana and cocaine at a well regulated and licensed outlet whose sales were heavily taxed to offset community harms and provide treatment for the real addicts who need it, the local gangs would deflate and the young men in them would realize that high school, college, real jobs are they way to get respect, women, and toys.

Mayor Newsom cannot do that, even if he wanted to. The feds control the drug racket and SF is just one node in a global network of cities suffering from violence created by the criminal cartels spawned by federal drug policy. If SF started regulating and taxing general dispensaries for marijuana and cocaine, the entire bureaucracy would find itself facing massive drug conspiracy charges.

Here is what the Mayor can do. He can call a press conference to deliver the following message to the city's drug purveyors.

If you sell marijuana and cocaine in San Francisco, you will not be harassed by the SF Police Department, nor will the SF Police Department cooperate with Federal law enforcement operations against you, under the following circumstances:

You move all drug sales operations to discreet indoor establishments where kids and parents do not have to see drug sales or use in their face, streets, or parks.

You do not sell drugs of any kind to minors.

You do not carry weapons or use violence of any kind to conduct your business.

If you abide by these norms, you will not be the subject of investigation or arrest by the SF Police. Furthermore, if you are robbed or threatened, the SF Police will treat this behavior as the crime it is and seek to arrest and prosecute anyone involved in robbery or extortion.

However, if you violate any of the above conditions, you and you alone will face the full pressure of the SFPD while your competitors continue to operate unimpeded.


david751 said...

My professional experience has given me some insight into the nexus between the drug trade and (most) violent crime; thus, I am having a hard time grasping the logic of your suggested solution.

If the cycles of violence are fueled (at least in part) but the, “flush … rewards of the drug trade” then what benefit would befall the community if the mayor was to look the other way (even to those people who accepted his “agreement”)?

While I agree that the federal drug policy is outdated and the current “war on drugs” paradigm is outdated, there is arguably a difference between regulating and taxing the trade and ignoring it altogether.

Jonathan Simon said...

I take your point and I agree that only a fully regulated and taxed market would provide the full benefits of harm reduction and community protection that I advocate. On the other hand, my proposal would immediate create an incentive within the illicit drug market for those organizations willing and able to act most maturely and effectively to comply. They would be able to guarantee their customers a safer way to purchase their drugs (both in terms of crime and law enforcement). Meanwhile, if police could concentrate all their drug attention on a selected bad actor organizations (perhaps with information provided by their competitors) they could neutralize them more effectively. As the nice are rewarded with higher prices and the naughty are punished with removal, overtime the market should become dominated by the more mature businesslike organizations. We should also see more grownups dominating these groups. If youth are going to work in these organizations, the organizations themselves will have a strong incentive to make sure those youth aren't carrying guns (since that would violate one of the central tenants of the truce). These jobs would be almost as positive for both youths and the community as legal jobs (almost). Legalization is still much better, but we have a long bloody way to go before then, Newsom needs to stop the violence now.