Tuesday, April 19, 2005

How to Actually Win the War on Drugs

The U.S. has been fighting the 'War on Drugs' for decades. Yet, today you can get good quality illegal drugs in any city and most towns, any time, at a reasonable price. The recreational illegal drug trade is profitable and healthy. The war on drugs is a miserable failure. Why? Drugs are profitable.

I know how to win this war by destroying the profitability of dangerous recreational drugs such as heroin, crack, cocaine, amphetamines, downers, marijuana, etc. (Yes, marijuana is dangerous, anything you smoke will damage your lungs). There is a catch though: a lot of underserving people will make a lot of money. If you think destroying the drug trade is worth some people getting rich, read on.

First, let's review the present approaches. 1) legalization -- used for alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine and 2) criminalization -- used on just about everything else. First, let's look at legalization.

Cigaretts and alcohol are profitable, legal, are consumed in large quantities, kill millions of people and sicken millions more. Alchohol causes a wide variety of diseases as well as a large fraction of all traffic accidents, and generates violent behavior among users. However, in moderate quantities, say one drink a day, alcohol can actually lengthen life. Cigarettes are more straight forward. They kill and sicken millions with no health benefit. Caffeine can cause problems in large quantities, but is fairly benign. The take home message, though, is that legalization leads to very large scale use of recreational drugs. Not exacly what we want for heroin.

Now consider criminalization. Illegal drugs are consumed in far smaller quantities than legal ones. However, they cause a lot of death and sickness not only due to their nature, but also because there is no quality control. For example, most cocaine sold on the street contains a lot of white powder that isn't cocain at all. Second, since the illegal drug trade is conducted outside the law, there's a lot of violence. After all, you can't turn to the courts or police when someone cheats you. Finally, the illegal drug trade profits fund violent groups in supplier countries such as Mexico and Columbia; in some cases threatening the stability of local governments. There is even evidence that al Qaeda now supports itself, in part, with drug money from the Afgan poppy trade.

Advocates of criminalization will point to all sorts of statistics on use rates, number of busts, quantities of imported drugs and so forth to claim we are winning the war. However, they've been doing that for decades, and most of these data are really estimates, not hard data. Because the trade is illegal, the only real data you can get are availability, price and quality, which can be determined by buying the product. In general, drugs are available everywhere, prices have come down and quality is up, suggesting that plenty of drugs are making it into the U.S. and they continue to be quite profitable. Criminalization, begun in the early decades of the last century, is an abject failure with very serious negative side effects.

If legalization and criminalization don't work, what can we do?

Follow the tobacco.

In the 1990's tobacco was hit by a series of lawsuits that nearly destroyed the entire business. Faced with actually paying for the death and suffering the product creates, the industry couldn't possibly be profitable. However, tobacco has friends in Congress and state legislatures. They were able to cut deals that reduced, but did not eliminate, profits. The industry survived.

Heroin and crack don't have many friends in Congress.

To destroy the illegal recreational drug trade, legalize the product and rewrite liability law. Make law suits against producers, distributers, and retailers of these drugs very easy to win. The illegal drug trade is dependent on repeat customers. For the most part, users know their pushers. If users can make money suing their pushers, they will. The industry won't possibly be able to maintain profitability and will die.

Sure, people will grow marijuana for personal use. A small trickle of drugs may be available on the street for one-time transactions, but the heart will be torn out of the drug trade. Availability will plumet and far fewer people will become users. The Columbian cartels will fall and al Qaeda will need to find another source of cash.

So there you have it. If you are willing to let some drug users and their lawyers make a lot of money we can end the trade in heroin, crack, cocaine, marihuana, hash, ecstasy, uppers, downers, etc. forever.

Seems like a good trade-off to me.


Blogger Kevin Jackson said...

Well, this is interesting. I did a blog search for caffeine free supplement and found your site. When I get some time I'll come back and find out where caffeine free supplement appears and how it relates - if it even does. Take care - nice work.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Masjid Dove said...

I did a presentation on how American culture... well the one aspect of it as far as having "extreme happiness" lends toward developing additions... and I discussed the prospect of the culture developing a new approach, that seems to have worked in indigenous socities... the notion of non-addictive regular use of certain substances

anyway, maybe I'll blog on that next because I think people dont realize that looking at why and what your using for initially can be a huge predictor/indicator of whether you'll become addicted.... and then there's also the issue of functional addictions.... which I wont bore you with

anyway, great topic

7:57 PM  

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