Tag Archives: drug war

Just Like Milton Friedman Predicted..

Libertarian economist Milton Friedman was a noted critic of America’s Drug War, pointing out all of the reasons why prohibition doesn’t work. One such reason: When a substance is illegal, the price will rise to accommodate the risk; the higher price and promise of greater profit encourages more lawbreakers.

Too bad Friedman didn’t live long enough to see his argument confirmed.

In a recent Washington Post story about drugs and Mexico, I came across the following interesting tidbit:

 Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.

“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”

 ‘Nuff said.

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was the Play?

A group of Nobel-winning economists recently issued a report calling for an end to the War on Drugs. In part, their statement read

“The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage,” says the 82-page report. “These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world.”

I guess the drug war has a few negative consequences….

When you insist on criminalizing behavior that ought to be treated as the public health issue it is, you shouldn’t be surprised when those sanctions do horrendous collateral damage.

Alcohol prohibition didn’t work; neither does drug prohibition. There are better ways to address the problem.

But we never seem to learn.



File Under “Duh”

Andrew Sullivan recently reported on some interesting research into the consequences of state-level marijuana legalization.

A 2012 research paper by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute in Mexico called ‘If Our Neighbours Legalise’, said that the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado, Washington and California would depress cartel profits by as much as 30 per cent. A 2010 Rand Corp study of what would happen if just California legalised suggests a more modest fall-out. Using consumption in the US as the most useful measure, its authors posit that marijuana accounts for perhaps 25 per cent of the cartels’ revenues. The cartels would survive losing that, but still. “That’s enough to hurt, enough to cause massive unemployment in the illicit drugs sector,” says [fellow at the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center David] Shirk. Less money for cartels means weaker cartels and less capacity to corrupt the judiciary and the police in Mexico with crumpled bills in brown envelopes. Crimes like extortion and kidnappings are also more easily tackled. …

Mr Shirk puts it this way. If you ask enforcement folk how large a dent their interdiction efforts – seizures, arrests, helicopter raids and so on – actually have on cartel earnings, they will say between 5 and 10 per cent. But just a few states embracing legal cannabis may end up robbing them of two to five times that amount.

In other words, when you reduce demand for an illegal product–in this case, by offering a legal alternative–you reduce illegal behavior associated with the marketing of that product.

Since cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, regulating its sale and taxing it–rather than criminalizing its use– would appear to be a win-win.

Still the Poster Child for Stupid Policy

The most recent newsletter of the ACLU has a report on the costs of incarceration, including the staggering amounts paid to enforce marijuana prohibition. In 2010, the states spent 3.6 billion dollars and made one pot arrest every 37 seconds. And how did this aggressive enforcement work out? Marijuana use increased.

Think about that next time state governments wail about not having enough money to support public education, pave highways, or provide other necessary services.

As I have noted previously, the nation could save an amount equal to the cuts made by sequestration just by substituting sensible regulations for our disastrous drug war.

Current laws are wildly illogical for all sorts of reasons.

The biggest problem with the War on Drugs is that it is being fought on the wrong battlefield. Drug abuse is a public health issue. Behaviors connected to the use of drugs–driving while impaired, theft to support a habit, etc.–should be addressed by the criminal law, but the mere use of a substance deemed harmful is a health issue, and should be addressed as a health issue.  (Speaking of health, marijuana is actually less harmful to users than tobacco, yet we have wildly different approaches to pot and tobacco use–undoubtedly the result of a much more effective tobacco lobby. According to police officers I know, people who use pot are significantly less likely to become violent than people who abuse alcohol, yet we outlaw pot, but regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco.)

Current laws are financially ruinous. The US spends roughly 60 billion dollars annually on drug prohibition, and we get virtually no bang for those bucks because the “war” is ineffective. We also forgo collection of billions of dollars in potential tax revenues that we would collect if we simply taxed pot like we treat alcohol and tobacco. We waste criminal justice resources that would be better used elsewhere, to treat drug abuse or to deter nonconsensual crimes that actually harm others.

Drug prohibition has focused disproportionately on African-American and Latino neighborhoods, exacerbating racial tensions. Black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white neighbors, despite statistics confirming comparable levels of use–and the ACLU reports that the disparity in some counties grows to as much as 30 times!

We’ve lost this war. Not that the War on Drugs has ever been effective; the percentage of Americans who use hard drugs is pretty much the same as it has always been. Pot use has ebbed and flowed over time, providing the only real changes in the numbers. Thirty plus years of research has consistently demonstrated the utter failure of American drug policy, and the error of the premises upon which it has been constructed. (Pot smokers become hard drug users in about the same percentages as milk drinkers do, and we don’t outlaw milk as a “gateway drug.”) The only thing the Drug War has done effectively is ruin the lives of (disproportionately black) teenagers who are imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes.

What is frustrating is the number of policymakers who respond to this mountain of evidence with a renewed enthusiasm for measures that have consistently failed.




I Should Probably Stick to the Comics….

I love leisurely Sunday mornings. I still get the newspapers (Star and New York Times) on paper, and while I have long since gone to electronic receipt of the “funnies,” I will never be as comfortable with online formats as I am with old-fashioned newsprint.

That said, it’s impossible to read the news without being forcibly reminded how quickly and dramatically the world is changing, how complicated our reality is, and how difficult it is for many of us to accept those changes or deal with them.

Three totally different articles from today’s Star underscored the pace of change, the resistance to it, and not incidentally, our need to be sure we are asking the right questions in order to deal with it.

Least important, but telling, was the Varvel cartoon portraying the upcoming arguments over same-sex marriage in the Indiana General Assembly by drawing a castle with a moat around it. I’m not entirely sure what he thought he was saying with this image–presumably that our legislature is impervious to outside opinions–but it inadvertently (and accurately) portrayed our lawmakers as residents of the 17th Century.

The question is, how do legislatures or citizens who are firmly ensconced in the past deal with things like bitcoins?  The business section had a fairly lengthy article about this new currency, composed of nothing more than computer code, and not backed by the “full faith and credit” of any government. This is one of many spontaneous new ways of doing business via the internet, a method that allows for anonymity and avoids the problems of foreign exchange. Its value is entirely determined by market forces (and that value has been extremely volatile). I have no idea whether bitcoins are a harbinger of our future, or an experiment that will fizzle–but the very concept has to be unsettling to the “gold standard” folks who populate talk radio and TV and are currently encouraging everyone to buy gold or trade in their paper money for silver coins. If they still don’t understand that money gets its value from people’s willingness to accept it, they are going to have a lot of trouble dealing with bitcoin and its progeny.

Less arcane, perhaps, was the article about rapidly changing attitudes toward marijuana. I’ve written before about the insanity of our drug war, and evidently, a lot of people have come to realize how self-defeating our approach to drug use has been. The problem is, as the article demonstrated, we are still asking the wrong questions–still in thrall to an approach that fails to distinguish between use and abuse.

Both sides of this debate are drawing wrong conclusions from wrong questions. The reason attitudes about pot are changing is that so many people have used marijuana occasionally, much as they have a drink or two occasionally, with no deleterious effect. That leads them to believe pot is harmless and should be legalized. Opponents of legalization point to the (relatively few) addicts, and see danger.

This focus on the substance being abused misses the point. People with addictive personalities can abuse anything–alcohol, tobacco, freon from the air conditioner, grandpa’s heart medicine, inhalents…It is literally impossible to ban everything someone might abuse. With alcohol and tobacco–thanks less to common sense and more to corporate lobbyists–we’ve found a workable middle ground: we regulate, tax and inform. And it works; in most places, it is much easier for teens to get drugs than it is for them to buy alcohol. (As one drug war critic noted, when was the last time you saw the owner of the local liquor store hanging around the schoolyard saying “Psst, kids. We got a new shipment of Stoly in today”?)

The world isn’t only changing. Thanks in no small part to science and technology, it’s getting more complicated.

If we stay in that 17th-Century castle protected from reality by a moat of our own construction, we’re not going to be able to deal with 21st Century challenges.