10 March 2009

Drug Legalisation as a Last Resort?

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Illegal drugs are fueling crime, terrorism, and violent insurrection around the world. High profit from producing, transporting, and selling drugs with artificially inflated prices, is one of the worst de-stabilising forces in the modern world.
.....prohibition itself vitiates the efforts of the drug warriors. The price of an illegal substance is determined more by the cost of distribution than of production. Take cocaine: the mark-up between coca field and consumer is more than a hundredfold. Even if dumping weedkiller on the crops of peasant farmers quadruples the local price of coca leaves, this tends to have little impact on the street price, which is set mainly by the risk of getting cocaine into Europe or the United States.

Nowadays the drug warriors claim to seize close to half of all the cocaine that is produced. The street price in the United States does seem to have risen, and the purity seems to have fallen, over the past year. But it is not clear that drug demand drops when prices rise. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the drug business quickly adapts to market disruption. At best, effective repression merely forces it to shift production sites. Thus opium has moved from Turkey and Thailand to Myanmar and southern Afghanistan, where it undermines the West’s efforts to defeat the Taliban.

Al Capone, but on a global scale

Indeed, far from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before. According to the UN’s perhaps inflated estimate, the illegal drug industry is worth some $320 billion a year. In the West it makes criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens (the current American president could easily have ended up in prison for his youthful experiments with “blow”). It also makes drugs more dangerous: addicts buy heavily adulterated cocaine and heroin; many use dirty needles to inject themselves, spreading HIV; the wretches who succumb to “crack” or “meth” are outside the law, with only their pushers to “treat” them. But it is countries in the emerging world that pay most of the price. Even a relatively developed democracy such as Mexico now finds itself in a life-or-death struggle against gangsters. American officials, including a former drug tsar, have publicly worried about having a “narco state” as their neighbour.

....Legalisation would...drive away the gangsters; it would transform drugs from a law-and-order problem into a public-health problem, which is how they ought to be treated. Governments would tax and regulate the drug trade, and use the funds raised (and the billions saved on law-enforcement) to educate the public about the risks of drug-taking and to treat addiction. The sale of drugs to minors should remain banned. Different drugs would command different levels of taxation and regulation. This system would be fiddly and imperfect, requiring constant monitoring and hard-to-measure trade-offs. Post-tax prices should be set at a level that would strike a balance between damping down use on the one hand, and discouraging a black market and the desperate acts of theft and prostitution to which addicts now resort to feed their habits. _Economist_via_BrianWang
How would one go about legalising drugs in a world where the "war on drugs" generates so much income on both sides of the law? Very carefully. A pampered population such as those that exist in Europe, North America, and Oceania, are apt to behave rather unpredictably if suddenly given access to very powerful drugs that can potentially make them feel better, smarter, and more powerful than they have ever felt in their lives. For many, psychological addiction would happen almost instantly, with physical dependency following in due order.

Al Fin has long favoured a graded approach to legalisation, beginning with marijuana and moving to low potency forms of other plant-derived drugs. The amount of cocaine originally in Coca Cola, for example, was far less of a threat to public health and order than cheap beer and many video games freely available. And so on. The issue needs very careful and dispassionate review and revision.

What is happening in Mexico is an illustration of what is happening in many other countries of the world, including Afghanistan. Terrorism, bloody insurrection, crime, etc. are all being financed by high drug prices in Europe, North America, and other more developed parts of the world. The drug war is a failure even if it succeeds -- especially if it succeeds. The higher the prices paid for drugs, the more profits earned by drug cartels and criminal terrorist organisations. In addition, the higher the prices for safer drugs such as marijuana, the more likely children and adolescents are to experiment with dangerous substitutes such as gasoline, toluene, airplane glue, and other rapid brain killers.

Mexico is sinking under the weight of criminality, a large part of which is financed by side effects of "the drug war." It is human nature to seek out risky behaviours and experiences of altered consciousness. An enlightened society would attempt to make such innately motivated experimentation and recreation more survivable, with fewer dangerous spinoffs such as drug cartel violence.

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Blogger neil craig said...

It is regularly said that drugs fund terrorism. Certainly it has with the Shining Path people in Peru. Possibly it did with the KLA in Kosovo. However both cases are more military force than pure terrorism.

I am rather more concerned that some of that $320 bn is funding political parties in government. Not much evidence of this either except in South America, though Gore was caught sharing a joke with an Albanian funder with no discernable source of income. Certainly the situation lends itself to a "bootleggers & baptists" type alliance & by its nature we don't hear about it.

Wednesday, 11 March, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Corruption of mainstream institutions by drug money is certainly a problem in many countries.

Whether the Baptist church is involved in the drug trade is another question. ;-)

Just as socialist ideology betrays an abysmal ignorance of human nature, and becomes disastrous when enacted into law, so do modern drug laws betray an underlying stupidity with regard to human psychology.

Saturday, 14 March, 2009  

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