I’m not a fan of the War on Drugs, even though I’m personally very socially conservative on the use of drugs. Regardless of my individual preferences, I recognize that prohibition gives government the power to trample our rights, that it is borderline (if not over-the-line) racist, and that it leads to horrible injustices.
I’d much prefer for law enforcement resources be allocated to fighting crimes that actually have victims.
Though I guess one fringe benefit of the War on Drugs is that it has given us additional evidence that Hillary Clinton is not an economist.
She once justified her support for the War on Drugs by stating “there is just too much money in it.”
Wow, this may be the all-time winner for most economically illiterate statement ever uttered by a politician. At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason the drug trade is so lucrative is because it’s illegal.
Here’s some evidence resulting from the fact that some states have decriminalized marijuana.
The L.A. Times reports on a side effect of these sensible state-based reforms.
“I’ve always liked this business, producing marijuana,” the 50-year-old farmer said wistfully. He had decided that this season’s crop would be his last. The reason: free-market economics. The loosening of marijuana laws across much of the United States has increased competition from growers north of the border, apparently enough to drive down prices paid to Mexican farmers. Small-scale growers here in the state of Sinaloa, one of the country’s biggest production areas, said that over the last four years the amount they receive per kilogram has fallen from $100 to $30. The price decline appears to have led to reduced marijuana production in Mexico and a drop in trafficking to the U.S., according to officials on both sides of the border… “Changes on the other side of the border are making marijuana less profitable for organizations like the Cartel de Sinaloa,” said Antonio Mazzitelli, the representative in Mexico for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
So the unintended consequence of drug liberalization in the United States is to weaken sinister cartels in Mexico.
Sounds like a win-win situation.
Speaking of unintended consequences, let’s contemplate what lessons we can learn about prohibition from this story about some new research on drugs and alcohol in the Washington Post.
In the state of Kentucky, some counties (“dry”) prohibit alcohol sales completely. Others allow it only within certain municipalities (“moist,”) or don’t place restrictions on alcohol sales at all (“wet”). The Louisville researchers noticed that dry counties had higher rates of meth lab busts, as well as higher rates of meth crimes overall. And the effect is significant: “if all counties were to become wet, the total number of meth lab seizures in Kentucky would decline by about 25 percent,” they found. …the researchers found that this is more than just a simple correlation… In other words: people who buy alcohol in places where it’s illegal become accustomed to dealing with the black market. If you’re going to get punished whether you trade in booze or trade in meth, why not give meth a spin?
Here’s an accompanying chart, showing that counties with no alcohol had considerably more problems with meth.
By the way, the evidence presented above is just one piece of a larger puzzle.
This research fits in with other findings showing harmful effects of localized alcohol prohibitions. A 2005 paper in the Journal of Law and Economics found that when Texas counties changed from dry to wet, their incidences of drug-related mortality decreased by 14 percent as people substituted alcohol for other drugs. Records from the Kentucky State Police show that dry counties tend to have higher rates of DUI-related car crashes than wet ones — presumably because when you live in a dry county, you have to drive farther to get your booze. A 2010 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that binge drinking rates were often higher in Alabama’s dry counties than its wet ones.
In other words, drugs and alcohol unambiguously can cause people to make stupid decisions.
But there are more stupid decisions and worse consequences when these products are criminalized.
Let’s close with a very clever Venn Diagram from Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute.
Hopefully my conservative friends will recognize the inconsistency in their views. And at the very least they should be strongly opposed to U.N. efforts to interfere with American sovereignty on the issue.
P.S. Mark also produced a very brave video on gender and test scores.
P.P.S. You may think only “crazy” libertarians favor liberalization, but there’s actually a very broad coalition of people who favor reform. Folks such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCain, Mona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, Rick Perry, and Richard Branson.