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Archive for November 5th, 2020

In yesterday’s election postmortem, I highlighted a few implications for big-picture economic issues.

But here’s another takeaway from the election results: The American people have rejected the foolish and expensive War on Drugs.

Writing for Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown celebrates this development.

If Americans across the country provided a clear mandate for anything this year, it’s ending the hold that drug prohibition has on our country. Of nine drug decriminalization or legalization measures on state ballots last night—including two addressing hallucinogens and one covering all illegal drugs—not a single one failed. These were decisive victories, too, not close calls. …successful anti–drug war measures in 2020 spanned a diverse array of states. …Ballot measures making marijuana legal for recreational purposes passed in…Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey. South Dakota approved both recreational and medicinal marijuana. In addition, Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana measure. …consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms got a green light from voters in the District of Columbia and in Oregon. And Oregonians also approved Measure 110, partially decriminalizing all illegal drugs.

What happened in Oregon is especially amazing.

In effect, the state is following Portugal, which – as I wrote back in 2017 – decriminalized all drugs early this century.

So I was interested to see a new column in the New York Times about what’s happened in that nation. Authored by Professor Austin Frakt of Boston University, it’s a largely positive picture.

…it decriminalized the use of all illicit drugs in small amounts in 2001, including heroin and cocaine… Portugal’s law removed incarceration… Opioid overdose deaths fell after Portugal’s policy change. So did new cases of diseases associated with injection drug use, such as hepatitis C and H.I.V. …One study found an increase in drug experimentation after the law. But this was a transient effect… One consequence of ending incarceration as a penalty in Portugal is that prison overcrowding decreased. …In drug policy, there are many trade-offs. Though we may not have strong evidence that drug decriminalization alone is widely beneficial, we also lack compelling evidence of benefits from criminalizing drug use, which costs the United States billions of dollars annually.

I don’t know Professor Frakt’s philosophical preferences, but the column doesn’t make a libertarian case for decriminalization.

He’s simply focusing on cost-benefit issues.

Which is quite reasonable. Indeed, I worry that our welfare state will subsidize people making bad choices if there’s legalization in the United States, so I’m certainly cognizant of potential downsides.

That being said, the libertarian part of me is glad voters are giving people more freedom, even if it means some people may make dumb choices.

Now we simply need to convince voters that more personal liberty should be matched with more economic liberty.

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