The Common Good
May-June 2003

They Do It Because They Make Money

by The Editors | May-June 2003

A conservative Republican asks: What would happen if there were no profit in drugs?

Dan Burton is a Republican member of Congress from Indiana. Tom Carr is director of the Baltimore-Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This exchange is an edited excerpt from the House Government Reform Committee hearing on "America's Heroin Crisis, Colombian Heroin, and How We Can Improve Plan Colombia," on December 12, 2002.

Rep. Dan Burton: I have been in probably 100 or 150 hearings like this at various times in my political career and the story is always the same. Every time I have a hearing, I hear that people who get hooked on heroin and cocaine become addicted and they very rarely get off of it. And the scourge expands and expands and expands. And we have very fine law enforcement officers like you go out and fight the fight. But there is no end to it. Over 70 percent of all crime is drug-related.

We saw on television recently Pablo Escobar gunned down and everybody applauded and said, "That's the end of the Medellín cartel." But it wasn't the end. There is still a cartel down there. When you kill one, there's 10 or 20 or 50 waiting to take his place. You know why? It's because...there is so much money to be made in it there is always going to be another person in line to make that money. And we go into drug eradication and we go into rehabilitation and we go into education, and the drug problem continues to increase. And it continues to cost us not billions, but trillions of dollars. Trillions! And we continue to build more and more prisons, and we put more and more people in jail, and we know that the crimes that they're committing are related most of the time to drugs.

I have one question that nobody ever asks, and that is this question: What would happen if there were no profit in drugs? If they couldn't make any money out of selling drugs, what would happen?

Tom Carr: What you are arguing then is complete legalization.

Burton: No, I am not arguing anything. I am asking the question. Because we have been fighting this fight for 30 to 40 years and the problem never goes way. New generations—younger and younger people—get hooked on drugs. And nobody ever asks this question. And I'm not inferring anything, because I hate drugs. But the question needs to be addressed at some point: What would happen if they don't make any money out of it? How about the overall effect on our society—the number of people that are being addicted in our society? Would it go up or down if there were no profit?

I don't think that the people in Colombia would be planting coca if they couldn't make any money, and I don't think they would be refining coca and heroin in Colombia if they couldn't make any money. And I don't think that Al Capone would have been the menace to society that he was if he couldn't sell alcohol on the black market, and he did and we had a horrible, horrible crime problem. Now, the people that are producing drugs don't do it because they like to do it. They do it because they are making money.

At some point we to have to look at the overall picture. One of the parts of the equation that has never been talked about—because politicians are afraid to talk about it—is: "What part of the equation are we leaving out?" And that is the profit in drugs. Don't just talk about education. Don't just talk about eradication. Don't just talk about killing people like Escobar, who is going to be replaced by somebody else. Let's talk about what would happen if we started addressing how to get the profit out of drugs.

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