NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fight Back: An Alternative To War On Drugs?

May 11, 2001

It's time to change our tactics in the war on drugs, says Michael Levine, a 35-year career international federal narcotics officer, trial consultant and expert witness. Clearly, our present strategy of prosecuting drug dealers and suppliers has failed.

Instead, says Levine, we should target buyers much like China did following World War II.

  • After World War II, China had a staggering 70 million heroin and opium addicts. In 1949, priority was the suppression of drug addiction -- not war against supply or dealers. All hard-core addicts were required to undergo treatment or be forcibly interned in a treatment center until cured.
  • The program was accompanied by antidrug consumer propaganda, depicting the addict as the enemy, the culprit who fueled the drug economy and without whom there would be no demand.
  • Although drug addicts were considered the enemy, they were portrayed as redeemable through rehabilitation.
  • The result of the program was that by spring 1951, less than two years after its inception, China's drug problem of 70 million addicts was fundamentally eradicated.
  • During the three years of the campaign, there were only 27 executions of dealers -- clearly not the reason for their success.

Levine's own "Fight Back" program was crafted after the example in China. Relying primarily on targeting buyers instead of suppliers, he's convinced that the battle could be won as quickly as it was in China.

About 85 percent of buyers, Levine says, are so-called casual users with jobs, homes and families to protect, and can be frightened by almost anything. If they spot a police car, a camera, someone who looks like a cop, an angry citizen staring at them, they move on. Supply follows demand, he said, not vice versa as the drug war bureaucrats claim. Discourage the buyers and the dealers go out of business.

Source: Michael Levine, "Fight Back: A Solution Between Prohibition and Legalization," in David Lynch, ed., "After Prohibition," Cato Institute, November 2000.

For Cato text


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