Saturday, June 25, 2011

SUMMER OF SMOKE: an Economic War on (Bad) Drugs

by Leslie Fish

Yes, there really is – or was – such an organization as the Midwestern Dope Dealers’ Association. I knew a few of its members back when I was in college, in Michigan. They were a mixture of students and ex-students who made their money by selling marijuana, hash, LSD and occasionally psilocybin – in other words, hallucinogens and “soft” drugs, all. They had nothing but contempt for the “hard” drugs – heroin, cocaine, PCP – and the people who pushed them.

Late in the spring semester of a certain year, they noticed that some of the Grass in town had nasty after-effects. Since the MDDA included some quite good chemists, they tested the Grass, and found that it had been laced with heroin. A few discreet questions revealed that this particular batch of Grass had been sold down at the town high school rather than the college campus.

From this information, the MDDA deduced that the Mafia was trying to move into the town’s drug business, which was very bad news. Organized crime, they knew, doesn’t like marijuana; the stuff is too cheap to make big profits, too bulky for safe transport, and not addictive enough to guarantee repeat business. However, it’s the most popular illegal drug in the country, and most kids have better sense than to have anything to do with heroin. Therefore the Mafia sells Grass laced with heroin to secretly get the kids addicted. From that point on, it’s easy to get the kids taking straight heroin – and the pushers have a permanent clientele.

Knowing this, the MDDA sat down and figured out a workable strategy to keep Mafia pushers out of their town. The only problem would be getting the police to cooperate, since whichever side got police protection would win. The Mafia’s usual trick is to find an ambitious young cop, become his informer and sic him on rival drug dealers. After the cop has made a name for himself, the Mafia agents get the cop to take money from them by some trick or other, and secretly film/photo the transaction. Then they reveal themselves, show him the pictures, and promise to ruin him if he doesn’t do as they say. And what they say is simple: arrest any and all rivals while leaving their dealers alone, and warn them if any special investigation comes up. That’s how the Mafia gets local police protection.

What the MDDA did was put together their strategy and make an appointment with the local police captain, who was known to be a reasonable man. They showed him their evidence, and their strategy, and promised to keep the Mafia out of town if the captain would do just one thing for them: order all his officers not to arrest anyone for drug-dealing or drug-possession, all through summer semester. By the time the fall semester started, the MDDA promised, they should have the problem licked. The captain looked over their evidence, and reluctantly agreed.

The first thing the MDDA did was post, and gossip, notices all around the town high school, warning the kids that the local Grass was poisoned, and to come buy clean stuff up in “campus town”. Next thing they did was to sell their products for a dollar less than the standard price, while keeping a close eye on the prices of tainted Grass down near the high school. The Mafia tried dropping their prices, so the MDDA dropped theirs lower.

In the absence of police drug-busts, they took to dealing in the campus student-union grill. I saw, once, a cop who was clearly annoyed with the no-bust policy come marching through the grill, glowering menacingly at the students – through Grass smoke as thick as fog. By the time he’d made one circuit of the tables, he’d breathed enough of the smoke that his steps were slower and his glower had turned into a silly grin. Finally he sat down at one of the tables and ordered a triple cheeseburger, with fries, and a super-size milkshake. So much for that.

And it wasn’t just Grass. On discovering that the Mafia was also trying to push LSD, one dealer, commonly called Big M, bought the base chemicals and made a good thousand hits. He sold the first 100 for a dollar less than the Mafia pushers. The Mafia tracked him down and sent some goons to beat him up. When he got out of the hospital, Big M sold the next 100 hits for two dollars less than the Mafia price, and fortified his house. The Mafia thugs threw a firebomb through his front window, but the firemen arrived in time to keep more than the front room from burning. Big M then gave away the remaining 800 hits for free – and left town and went into hiding.

Something similar happened with the hashish and psilocybin markets.

By the end of the summer, the Mafia gave up. Even with their cash reserves, they couldn’t keep up with these dedicated amateurs. They pulled back to Detroit and Ypsilanti, and quit trying to sell to the student crowd – thus concluding the one successful War On (Bad) Drugs ever fought in the US.

The MDDA, as promised, reported back to the police captain, who allowed his troops to start arresting for drugs again – but the MDDA had already passed the word, so students bought and consumed cautiously again.

The police captain, alas, didn’t fare so well. His superiors frowned upon his orders not to make any drug arrests for a whole summer, and demoted him. Never mind that he’d helped save his town from Mafia infiltration; he hadn’t arrested any Hippies! So he never rose to any higher rank, but retired with a full pension and benefits – and with at least the knowledge that he’d done the right thing.


Tom Dickson-Hunt said...

That is...fairly awesome.

Anonymous said...

I can't decide if that's a great example of the free market working when the government gets out of the way. or if it's an example of an antitrust crime with the local dealers engaging in price fixing. It's probably both.

So keep that in mind, Antitrust laws let the Mafia win.

Aya Katz said...

Doragoon, you have some very good points there!

Leslie Fish said...

Hmm, technically it was the cops who created the "trust" effect. Simply by persuading the police to back off, the MDDA created an open market -- wherein an association of little guys managed to beat a big would-be monopoly by dropping prices and improving quality.

--Leslie <;)))><

Anonymous said...

It depends on if you count the little guys as separate entities or as one large corporation. So either they are the little guys engaging in price fixing.
Or they are Wal-Mart driving the competition out of business by keeping unnaturally low prices rather than the mob's way of getting the government (police) to create an unfair business environment.

Anonymous said...

In some areas, (not drugs) the Mob actually provides/provided better service. Back In The Day, I am told, if you bet the numbers with a Mob numbers-runner, you would get paid if you won...guaranteed. Betting with an independent, maybe not so guaranteed.

In this case, the independents provided better product and better service at a lower price, and won out in the free market, fair and square. Kind of like how a lot of small businesses deal with Wal-Mart and its ilk...usually, the smaller guys that survive Wal-Mart do so by offering better service and knowledge of a specific product, which is not the Wal-Mart way.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Dora. This case reminds me of a variation on a famous cartoon: a small fish, being pursued by an open-mouthed larger fish, being pursued by an even bigger open-mouthed fish -- pursued by a large fleet of tiny open-mouthed fish in the shape of a really huge fish. It appeared in a labor-union newspaper, so no caption was needed. In this case, the "union" was an association of small dealers taking on a single big one. I can't think of any other way that a bunch of little guys can take on a big guy, with or without govt. present.

Hi, Raven. Yes, I've seen a similar tactic taken on by small farners competing with big agri-business corps. They specialize in rare crops (have you ever seen a stars-and-stripes melon?), which they sell to specialty markets. The tough part is finding those specialty markets, but perhaps the Internet makes this easier nowadays.

--Leslie <;)))><

Bear Helms said...

I'm reminded of how even has a campaign to end the war on drugs by asking for legalization - eliminating the black market profits that we've not made any inroads against over the past 20 years with mexico and other countries smuggling into the US would vanish overnight if they were just as legal and available as alcohol.

Amsterdam seems to be a country we can examine for how to handle the public accessibility of substances up to and including heroin, cocaine, and possibly even meth.

KateGladstone said...

What if some web-page (designed so teens/pre-teen found it) said:
(describe how to do the test)