The Global War on Drugs has Failed

by on June 4, 2011 at 7:20 am in Current Affairs, Education, Law, Medicine | Permalink

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

…End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

…This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

…Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.

  • Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan
  • Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)
  • George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece
  • George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)
  • Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain
  • John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States
  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana
  • Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the International Crisis Group, Canada
  • Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
  • Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health
  • Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France
  • Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, co-founder of The Elders, United Kingdom
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs
  • Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

The report of The Global Commission on Drug Policy is very strongly worded and the commissioners are so stellar it will be difficult to ignore.

RJP June 4, 2011 at 7:58 am

The problem is that most of these people are former Chairmen, Ministers or Presidents, not incumbents. They only have the courage to speak out about this once they are leaving office, not whilst they were there and could have made more of a difference. The War on Drugs isn’t working but that fact is politically uncomfortable so little progress will be made in creating better policy.

Sebastian June 4, 2011 at 10:22 am

nah – the problem isn’t the lack of incumbents support, it’s the lack of US incumbent support* – in Latin America you’ll find many incumbents opposing the war on drugs – Calderdon in Mexico is the most obvious examples

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

What if the other nations unilaterally legalized (some) drugs? I can understand needing the support of other countries to fight drugs. But does Latin America need American support to legalize drugs as well? The game theoretic implications of one or a few producer nations legalizing drugs would be interesting.

Newt June 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

America would quickly cut off trade with any Latin American nation openly legalizing large scale drug production and export. Since all of Latin America depends on US trade for economic health, there isn’t any chance of that.

President Fox of Mexico vetoed a personal use exception to the drug laws even though he had campaigned on signing it. Turns out the USA put heavy pressure on him.

Calderon did eventually sign the personal use exception in Mexico when the congress had enough support to override his veto.

Other than that, he has been an enthusiastic helper to the American effort to export violence to Mexico by supporting the drug war. The states that suffer most are the ones that voted for him most heavily.

To change anything, you need the USA to legalize and to have that, you need to start with the federal government because of Raich v. Ashcroft.

So you really need 60 senators and a president in favor of reform. I don’t see any improvements coming this century.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

“So you really need 60 senators and a president in favor of reform. I don’t see any improvements coming this century.”

My suggestion: Don’t project the past turnover rate too far into the future with 100% certainty.

TD June 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Here’s an interesting episode from history on linking foreign trade and drugs.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Opium_Wars

unblinkered June 5, 2011 at 12:15 am

“American effort to export violence” what does that even mean. Since exports and imports by definition are a two way process. Would you say Mexico has been equally successful in it’s efforts to Import Violence?.

doctorpat June 6, 2011 at 4:31 am

You can turn this around and look at it another way. Any nation can threaten the USA by threatening to legalize. If Greece wants a bailout, they can start by closing down all drug enforcement and legalizing consumption. Not out of spite, but because they don’t have the money to pay the cops.
The US ambassador will be at the door early next morning waving a nice agreement involving American financing of Greek government “essential services”.

RJP June 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

I don’t see how you can say that, Calderón’s term if anything has seen an escalation in the war, since 2006 over 34,000 Mexicans have been killed, with over 15,000 deaths in 2010 alone. From where I’m sitting any efforts he’s making to oppose the war don’t seem to be working very well as he seems to be pursuing it with some vigour.

mulp June 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm

A bad destructive law is still the law and the executive must enforce it if you believe in rule of law.

And what Calderon is battling is the unintended consequences of the drug laws in the US and the gun laws in the US and the law enforcement action enforcing of US laws on drugs and immigration. The centuries of free migration across the US-Mexico border has been disrupted and forced into the hands of the same criminals running drugs and guns, so control of drugs, guns, and immigration are all at stake for the criminal enterprises, who have been buying under paid government officials and workers for decades.

Mexico has all the virtues of low paid government workers you can wish for – they perform their duty in a free market, working for the highest bidder.

RJP June 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Yes, I believe in the rule of law, that doesn’t stop him from bringing laws to congress in an effort to change the law. Leadership is about taking a stand and getting things done, and from what I’ve heard he isn’t exactly clamouring for change rather unceasingly pursuing the status quo. I accept that such efforts to change the law may fail repeatedly but if he’s not trying then presenting him as a notable opponent of the war is to my mind false.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm

“what Calderon is battling is the unintended consequences of the drug laws in the US and the gun laws in the US”

Lemme guess
Drug laws: Too much prohibition
Gun laws: Not enough

bluto June 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Mexico’s problem guns come from their own army and Latin America. A semi-automatic AK-47 that’s difficult enough to convert that if you can do it you could just build the damn thing from scratch is $500 in the US, a full auto AK-47 trades for well under $100 in a host of international countries.
http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol15no4/154arms.htm
This article cites $6, which seems low, but I’ve seen other citations of a few chickens maybe $20-$50. I’d bet large buyers could get them from Venezuela’s plant for under $100 a piece.

It would be patently rediculous to bring $500 limited AK-47s from the US into Mexico when you could just make or buy them elsewhere for a tenth of the cost. A fully automatic, legal AK-47 would probably be at minimum $5000 and it’s whereabouts would need to be reported to the ATF at all times.

E. Barandiaran June 4, 2011 at 8:11 am

Although I’m very much in favor of liberalizing the production, trade and consumption of all drugs, I’m old enough to know that the “stellar” authors of this strongly worded report will make no difference to the probability of a reform, particularly in your country. I’m sure Bryan Caplan can give you many reasons to support my view –in other words, expect neither a radical nor a marginal revolution in the liberalization of drugs (in the next ten years a political agreement on reducing the deficit is more probable than one on liberalizing drugs).
Note: I don’t know what you mean by “stellar” but I hope is just “known” (most commissioners are not even “well-known”). And remember that almost all living politicians and bureaucrats are known for their ineptness and/or corruption and most of the commissioners are not exception. To give you an example that may surprise you: Mario Vargas Llosa is a great writer that deserved the 2010 Nobel Prize, but in the past 25 years he has been an inept politician; today his ineptness is shown by his emotionally-charged participation in the runoff election that will take place tomorrow (06/05/11) in his Peru. Most Peruvians pay no attention to Vargas Llosa’s views on public policies.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:56 am

But almost noone is benefiting endogenously from the drug war. The beneficiaries benefit from tax funding. This is going to go away.

I have no fear that we won’t legalize. My fear is that they are never going to do it because of the logic, they are going to do it from necessity, and we are going to do it so swiftly that it’s going to take our breath away.

Bill June 4, 2011 at 8:16 am

Maybe we can have it adopted as part of the Ryan Plan to raise revenue and make seniors more mellow.

Rich Berger June 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

Why not offer reduced medical benefits in exchange for free reefer?

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

Many names on the commission are admittedly stellar; but their fame seems generic. How many on that panel have specific drug related credentials?

Writers and intellectuals are great; but are those really strong credentials for drug policy?

Bill June 4, 2011 at 9:29 am

Maybe Madonna and Lady GaGa can pick this up as a cause.

emerson June 4, 2011 at 9:06 am

Difficult to ignore, but not impossible.

TheCrankyProfessor June 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

Most Peruvians pay no attention to Vargas Llosa’s views on public policies.

I think that’s a fine definition for the term “public intellectual.” Someone to whose views one needn’t even pay lip-service. Kind of like actresses.

Bill June 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

You need a social conservative to step up and lead the charge. Any victims–er, heroes–you might suggest.

DKB @ NYU June 5, 2011 at 11:20 am
y81 June 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

I think it’s important to be clear about two things. The first is, it wouldn’t suffice to legalize marijuana, since drug traffickers would move on to cocaine, meth etc. ALL drugs must be legalized. The second is, the efficacy of this policy requires that the drug traffickers, their market gone, return to life as campesinos or get jobs flipping burgers. If you don’t believe that they will do that, then drug legalization is very problematic.

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

>>> it wouldn’t suffice to legalize marijuana, since drug traffickers would move on to cocaine, meth etc. <<<

The traffickers might want to move to whatever; but it also depends on what the users want to consume. Would marijuana users switch to other drugs merely because the traffickers wanted it?

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Let’s do marijuana and see what happens.

I don’t particularly care what whether or not drug traffickers have other job opportunities.

Michael Foody June 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm

So we need to arbitrarily prohibit things because if we don’t the criminals involved in the prohibited trade will just do something worse? Why not just prohibit more things then to create more outlets for the dissipation of criminal impulses?

msgkings June 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Michael and Andrew: good points

The Fresh Prince of Darkness June 4, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Yes, I agree they do make good points, and the war on drugs should be terminated regardless of the impact it will have on criminals. However, it’s worth noting there is a relevant issue embedded in y81′s post: the horrific violence seen so frequently in Mexico reflects more on Mexcians than it does on drug policy. Legalization won’t change a national character.

The Fresh Prince of Darkness June 4, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Put differently: no one is advocating legalizing kidnapping, which happens routinely in Mexico and increasingly in the US with increased immigration from the south.

axa June 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm

haha, 110 million people are exactly the same. “national character” is a 20th century idea, move on!

Eli June 4, 2011 at 9:43 am

Alex, my view of politics must be different from yours. This will be widely ignored.

Sebastian June 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

Yeah, I gotta say “the commissioners are so stellar it will be difficult to ignore” is almost comical in its naivete. Has Alex maybe lived in a different country for the last 25 years?

Blag the Ripper June 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I used to think Tyler was the biggest tool of the pair, but I’m starting to wonder now.

A. June 4, 2011 at 10:49 am

I believe it will cause 0.01 seconds of hesitation the next time someone approves an increase in the DEA budget.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

You may be misunderestimating the effect. These guys came out and said it. Noone is going to change their mind because of what these guys think, but it might make it okay for others to say what they really think.

FYI June 4, 2011 at 9:54 am

A bunch of old politicians who nobody cares anymore. Fernando Henrique Cardoso is a classic example.

In any case, one of the reasons you don’t see conservatives supporting this cause is that it is not based in facts. First off, these people start their arguments with a fallacy. The ‘war on drugs’ can never be won. Just like the war on alcohol, the war on murder, the war on embezzlement, etc. Then, you read any of the proposals on why we should do this and you run into things like “consumption will not increase!” or “We only had the Mafia and crime because of prohibition!”. Come on people.

The only way I would be convinced to support this position is with facts. For instance, the US spends billions dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse to mention just one legal drug. If you count the car accidents, drunk driving arrests, the welfare cost, the loss of productivity, so on and so forth, you end up with billions and billions of dollars which are basically wasted. How is that any better than what we do now with other drugs? Can we tally the costs and compare? To simply say that the current system doesn’t work well is not enough.

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 10:04 am

You don’t see conservatives supporting this cause? Does Milton Friedman count as a conservative. I think he was very pro-legalization.

I do agree with your point about old politicians on that list though…..

FYI June 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

He was mostly a conservative but with libertarian ideas as well. Overall, conservatives don’t support legalization.

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 10:28 am

No true Scotsman?

PeterI June 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm

There was once a National Review editorial supporting the legalization of marijuana.

Blag the Ripper June 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm

What about Bill Buckley? Is he conservative enough a proponent for you?

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

Okay, fair enough, while for your homework assignment please provide dollar values of the cost of things like the no-knock, the “oh, I think I hear you trying to dispose of drugs so I don’t even need a warrant,” etc.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 10:11 am

1 second Google search “cost of the drug war” has this site claiming “$1,716.77 each and every second of 2011.”

Multiplied out for a whole year, that comes to = A Shit Ton

anon June 4, 2011 at 10:13 am

Consumption, possession, transport and sale of alcohol is legal. For drugs not so. BIG difference.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

We of course have organized crime primarily for ALL the underground markets: prostitution, running numbers, ‘protection,’ stolen goods, etc. Some of these of course are legitimately illegal.

I’m just sayin’, but I think I’ve only ever heard 2 people say “consumption will not increase!” you and the other guy saying that people claim consumption will not increase.

Jeffrey Miron, my go-to guy, has said, if memory serves, that access and consumption probably would increase somewhat. So what. Utopia ain’t on the table. But noone really knows. It might increase to some extent at the expense of alcohol consumption.

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

Even if consumption increased it may not mean much. What would really matter is the ” harm to others” metric.

Consumption =/= Harm-to-others

FYI June 4, 2011 at 10:32 am

That is not true. You have to think that ‘personal harm’ always impact societies. If your kid or your parent gets addicted to cocaine the impact in his family is huge. Even if he doesn’t kill anyone or even himself.

Again, you got to think these things through. Every family has the ‘drunken uncle’ and that is not good but manageable. If you had a ‘cocaine uncle’ on every family the situation would be much, much worse for society at large.

Colin June 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

I suspect the marginal costs of an increase in the number of cocaine uncles would be more than offset by the reduced violence and public expenditures from this fruitless war.

JonF June 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Consumption addiction. The latter is harmful, the former when not accompanied by addiction is not (or at least not to any significant degree).
I’m sure more people consumed alcohol after prohibition ended, but those people were social drinkers, not hard core alcoholics. The alcoholics always found a way to keep to keep boozing all through the 20s, just like drug addicts always find a way to get a fix nowadays.

Dave Otto June 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm

So what is actual cost of incarceration on that family and the community? A drug user can be a complete drain on a family – he might also be the bread winner. Florida just handed down a life sentence to small time marijuana seller based on 3 strikes laws. The person was the primary means of support o an elderly parent and a young dependent child. Figures on the price of incarceration look at the inmate as if he/she exists in a vacuum.
What of that cost to that family? The dependent members of the family suddenly forced into caring for the dependent needs of a prisoner. Collect phone calls (0bscenely expensive, commissary stipends to the inmate can purchase the bare essentials, travel for visitation. How do you measure the cost on the African American community when as many as 1 in 4 young adults have some connection to the criminal justice system (probation, incarcerated, or parole).
So yes, a cocaine uncle – no different than a drunken, uncle can be a costly nightmare. But prison doesn’t actually mitigate those costs.

doctorpat June 6, 2011 at 4:08 am

The cocaine uncle is most likely to be the same guy who 5 years previously was the drunken uncle, before legalization.

So no net loss of functional uncles.

Dave Otto June 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

Miron projects a marginal increase but rejects the long-held belief that we’d see an explosion in use. I agree with you that there are no Utopian answers here. Substance abuse will continue to be a public health problem and criminal enterprises will not simply fold their tent based on a sudden collapse of prices. Selling marijuana legitimately will suddenly involve business licensing, taxes, marketing costs and in general the cost of doing business legitimately vs. hiring a handful of enforcers and mules.
Still, legalization is the only sane course.

FYI June 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

Just look at the answers you guys are giving me… remember, to change the status quo you cannot use generalities. I am not disputing the fact that the current war on drugs is expensive and not ideal. What I am saying is that to say that legalization would make that better you need to prove your point with facts. The impact and cost of alcohol and tobacco (not to mention other prescription drugs) in our society does not help your case.

By the way, that is why you guys try to make these crazy assumptions about legalization (no increase in use, end of organized crime). Because in the end, even if we changed our laws and everything worked out for the best this would be an incremental change and not a panacea. And to sell incremental changes is much harder. Get real.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:09 am

Okay, so by your rules the current drug war facts don’t count. (highest incarceration rate in the history of the universe, loss of freedom for everyone required to enforce unenforceable victimless (different from no-downside) crimes, tabulated costs of drug war at over $50 Billion/year, known costs of prohibition economics, etc.)

Okay, Portugal. Denmark.

What other facts would qualify? Only the ones made illegal to experiment with here?

FYI June 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Andrew

You just keep giving me more and more reasons for not buying it. Portugal? Look at what happened to number of drug related deaths and use. How about Holland? No mention of everything they are doing now to try to address the rise in crime and drug relate violence?

And no, not everyone has a cocaine uncle. Current ‘Past month use of cocaine’ according to the government is less than 2% across all age groups (it was close to 10% at the highest point in the early 80s). Marijuana is around 15%. According to the CDC, 52% (!) of adults 18 and over are regular drinkers (at least 12 drinks in the past year).

It is good to remember why we have the laws we do. Go check the history of morphine and how it was destroying society. We tried prohibition for good reasons. Like I said before, the current situation is not good but high incarceration is not the worst it can get. I bet 50 Billion a year is a lot less than the cost of all drug related traffic accidents we have with alcohol.

Again, I am not even one of those people opposed to liberalization on moral grounds. All I am saying is that the current arguments pro-liberalization are weak to the extreme.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Unfortunately replies don’t track, but here goes

You keep bringing up alcohol as if that is just another drug and any other drugs would stack. That is your assumption. My assumption is different.

You also keep holding up perfection as the alternative, and complain that legalization countries have problems. No problems isn’t on the menu. Again, the “no increase in use or problems” is a straw man.

The question is whether we can expect a marginal benefit, or a catastrophe and the actual evidence (evidence which is illegal to create here so we have to look elsewhere) is taht there would be no catastrophe, and what would be created are a few manageable problems.

http://healthland.time.com/2010/11/23/portugals-drug-experience-new-study-confirms-decriminalization-was-a-success/

“But new research on Portugal’s drug policy suggests that this isn’t necessarily so. Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2001. The outcome, after nearly a decade, according to a study published in the November issue of the British Journal of Criminology: less teen drug use, fewer HIV infections, fewer AIDS cases and more drugs seized by law enforcement. Adult drug use rates did slightly increase — but this increase was not greater than that seen in nearby countries that did not change their drug policies. The use of drugs by injection declined.”

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

FYI, Neither would everyone have a cocaine uncle if it were decriminalized. That is another factless assumption by yourself.

Are you playing the “we have to address all the fearmongers” card or are you just a fearmonger?

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

From same Time article:

“Of course, there’s no way of knowing which, if any, of these changes were caused by the change in policy — without a control group, this kind of research cannot determine cause and and effect. But Portugal started with one of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe — far lower than American rates — and remains below the EU average. For example, 19% of 15-to-16-year-olds in Europe in general have tried marijuana at least once, compared with 13% of Portuguese people that age. The figure for U.S. high school sophomores is 32%.”

That’s 32% in the place where it is illegal and there isn’t even a deep and broad-based resistance to the laws. That’s just kids getting drugs despite best efforts.

It’s really pretty simple. I’m not really that interested in convincing people who aren’t open-minded. I just don’t want the government to persecute drug users in my name. The cost of things like the drug war to me is just too high in terms of government power, corruption, and the infrastructure for tyranny. If the evidence were overwhelming that the marginal cost of criminalization was so much lower than decriminalization, then you could say what you will about my lack of communitarian spirit and principle over economics. But the point is, even on a solely dollar-denominated economist-centric POV, the evidence isn’t overwhelmingly in favor of government action/criminalization. In fact, the evidence that has been allowed to exist is mostly in favor of decriminalization.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm

“Current ‘Past month use of cocaine’ according to the government is less than 2% across all age groups (it was close to 10% at the highest point in the early 80s). Marijuana is around 15%. According to the CDC, 52% (!) of adults 18 and over are regular drinkers (at least 12 drinks in the past year).”

You are comparing apples to oranges here in almost every way. Drinking is a social activity that MAY also inebriate you. I wonder what the percentage of adults who have gotten drunk. Noone smokes pot to NOT get high, except Bill Clinton and he doesn’t even know what the fuck is is. You are comparing social gatheries to pot parties.

Even there you are comparing apples to oranges. While there is of course some marginal cost, over the course of a year I would say that almost anyone who really wants marijuana can get it. When I was a teen, there were several opportunities to partake and I in no way sought it out. I just ended up at a friend’s house when another friend of the friend fired up.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm

One also must keep in mind that the Portugese, California, and Netherlands experiments were in a world driven by the US drug war. There are no true controlled experiments.

One can have opinions on whether the results would be even better or even worse if the USA wasn’t so peripatetic about drugs, and I bet you know my opinion on this.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Re: Holland,

Again, I’ve never heard serious commentators claim that there would be no increase or decrease in anything if a change were made. That is after all, the point of change.

And where did this “the only reason for the mafia was prohibition” come from? I think I can say honestly that I’ve never heard anyone say that ever. That doesn’t mean that someone didn’t say it at some time, but if that is common argument then welcome to a serious forum.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Brief perusal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_the_Netherlands#Results_of_the_drug_policy

Leads me to believe that some of the problems in Holland directly result from being a liberalized oasis in the desert of criminalization. In other words, if neighbors and prime movers like the US were to move toward decriminalization there would be less drug tourism, entrainment of hard drugs due to this tourism, and less trafficking violence due to the aforementioned.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Holland is a small country, so my theory that it could easily be swamped by external forces is feasible such as a world full of people wanting a taste. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Personally, I could think of no reason to go there other than to use drugs. And since I don’t use drugs I have no interest whatsoever.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Interesting essay on how the USG views the Dutch experiment.

http://www.cedro-uva.org/lib/reinarman.dutch.html

One must keep in mind that the lack of failure of the experiment has taken place amidst a world of people wanting them to fail. I’m not insinuating US officials would attempt to hinder the Dutch (actually, the author documents it), but we can probably sure that their directional arrows aren’t towards a Dutch success, if anything at all, preferring to see a failure.

The point of Portugal and the Netherlands are that they were not the feared disasters or even the marginal failures some expected. The other side may be that the policies are abject failures and inertia and pride keeps them from admitting it. I find that unlikely considering how little psychological investment voters would have in such a young policy and the (at least rhetorical) pressure from nations such as ours.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

“Everyone” already has the cocaine uncle. It’s just that the government is keeping him from ruining his life with drugs by keeping him in prison.

What ‘facts’ do you present that everyone would be coked up if it were marginally easier to access?

doctorpat June 6, 2011 at 4:14 am

We had to ruin his life to prevent him from ruining his life?

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:12 am

“Conservative Thinker” is kind of an oxymoron.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:52 am

FYI,

I also think you have mis-identified the status quo,. The actual status quo is not what we are doing now, but what we will be doing when the scramble for money hits its stride. The burden of proof is going to be on the people defending the current status quo.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Another thing, the drug war, like the ‘war’ on performance enhancing drugs in sports is self-defeating. We have more powerful marijuana and more powerful alternatives due to the cost of transporting bulky contraband. Legalize marijuana, and the cost structure of other drugs gets perturbed.

What facts does the other side have? To paraphrase Lance Armstrong “their credibility sucks, I like our credibility.”

anon June 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Andrew:

Can you try and combine multiple, consecutive comments? This gets annoying. Thanks!

FYI June 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I agree… I was going to reply to Andrew’s points but it would take me hours. Got to try to be more concise.

tkehler June 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I’m not particularly conservative but that is a pretty dumb statement, Andrew’, even by the standards you typically set for yourself. Oakeshott? Roger Scruton? Hayek? Burke? Harvey Mansfield? John Kekes?

jdd June 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Your “proof” requirement is biased and ridiculous. A society bans something and then those who take the position that it shouldn’t be banned must produce ‘facts’ that have been precluded from coming into existence? How could anyone provide a fact about legalization in the modern age? Only economists “proofs” will work and those are not facts at all. This entire shifting of a presumption is an intelligent way to shift the debate to one that cannot be won by the other side.

The fact is that we can produce are the costs of the war itself in the USA. That can be be easily quantified (and has been). We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars in direct costs. Then there are qualitative costs — no knock raids, corrupt public officials, people getting killed by police. Prisons in California are full because drug users are in jail. This is during a time when government programs are going to start to be cut by necessity. If the choice is Bankruptcy and a War on Drugs or Solvency and Leglization then which do you pick? All of this analysis is out there. The storyline needs reframing and it is happening.

What is the upside? The avoidance of a lower price for drugs. Yes, if people are purchasing on price, more will be purchased.

The irony of this position that the prohibitionist position supposes (a) the authorities can prevent, at some cost, illicit use of drugs. But the argument against, I think, is that (b) authorities could NOT enforce rules keeping drugs out of the hands of minors, addicts, etc. Yet, these arguments logically are linked.

Drugs cannot be kept out of prisons. So we know that any large scale war on drugs can never, ever be won. The only reason it exists is that there is a lot of money for labor, drug substitutes, and the national and local police. So you have interest groups on each side. They can scare people.

But it is moot. Legalization is happening. Marijuana is legal in California and has been for 20 years. There is a 100 dollar tax for use via the bogus license. Costs are still the same but quality is higher. Eventually, it will be legalized because you cannot scare people about what they already see. Legal products are much easier to regulate. If “cheapness” is the issue then price floors can be maintained to limit that effect.

Cocaine will be much harder because it is so stigmatized. Legalization will eventually start in Columbia. Once the S. American nations protect their sovereignty, the war will become so futile that it will probably be ended. But this will take another 50 years. The sad part is that big pharma could probably invent a non-addictive cocaine that would be far safer… but it won’t because there is no money in it.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

“What is the upside? The avoidance of a lower price for drugs.”

And this is the UPside!

“Don’t do drugs young man, you will ruin your life by…ummm…errr…going bankrupt and going to prison.”

FYI June 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm

jdd,

You might think it is ‘ridiculous’ but that is how our law works. If you want to change it you need to prove why it needs to be changed.

And if you really think legalization is happening anyway and it is all just a matter of time you should feel more confident… my arguments would not matter in that case.

Randall Buttocks June 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm

You are one true shit-for-brains. You really think that “proof” is required to change a law in the US? What fucking rock have you been living under? Laws have been changed for far weaker reasons than the strong reasons in support of legalization given here.

Why don’t you go give yourself a heroin supository.

Randall Buttocks June 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm

jdd, great post. FYI is a closed-minded fool.

Randall Buttocks June 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Whatever “social costs” there legitimately are to legal alcohol and tobacco use, they don’t engender police state tactics seen at all levels of US law enforcement.

Terrance June 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Alcohol has some very significant downsides but it is a positive source of pleasure for the vast majority of the people who use it. That pleasure counts and exempting it from the equation by fiat and then requesting a utilitarian calculus is both unfair and silly. By that logic we should make skiing illegal since it is dangerous resulting in significant amounts of injury and death with no significant benefit save for the pleasure that people take in the activity.

There are many drugs that are reasonably safe relative to the pleasure they afford their users. Other drugs are very dangerous, but I doubt too many people that are undeterred by addiction or possible death benefit from the additional threat of incarceration. The argument that because an activity has serious deleterious consequences (death, addiction) we ought to give it even more negative consequences (incarceration, a criminal record) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If there are externalities tax them at a level to cover those externalities. If a drug is likely to leave the user unable to take care of himself require the appropriate insurance prior to use.

FYI June 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Well, the point here is not whether something gives people pleasure or not. The problem is externalities. It is the same argument for the government to control polution; even though polution benefits the company producing the polution, it has a large downside to everyone else. Doing drugs is probably great but driving your car and killing innocent people is such a huge cost that we should curb drugs as much as we can.

Incarceration deters behavior in general. if you don’t believe that you don’t believe in our criminal system as a whole. With less punishment, lower price and more availability the number of users will increase largely and so will the number of addiction and all the related consequences. It is quite simple. Just like it is simple to understand that just like any other behavior, this one is not controlled easily. There is a large price to be paid no matter what. The question is all about comparing costs in my opinion.

Rachel June 4, 2011 at 11:26 pm

“Doing drugs is probably great but driving your car and killing innocent people is such a huge cost that we should curb drugs as much as we can…Incarceration deters behavior in general” No one said anything about driving under the influence being legalized, yes driving whilst high is dangerous but it would be no more legal if drugs are legalised than it is now. If it is the externalities that concern you (leaving aside the legitimacy of intra-family externalities for the moment) surely we could at least retain the status quo level of externalities a lot cheaper by legalising drugs, but cracking down harder on drug-related activity that causes externalities (which would still be illegal)?

FYI June 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Rachel,

But this is just a matter of probability. If you admit that legalization will increase consumption, you will also admit that accidents will increase as well. And so will all the other unintended consequences you get when you have a larger population exposed to drugs. So even though selling drugs to minors would not be allowed, by definition you will have more minors consuming drugs.

All of that needs to be considered.

Steve J June 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

the us elected a president who previously declared the war on drugs a failure and admitted to experimenting with cocaine. once in office he laughed at voters who pushed the cannabis decriminalization issue and appointed an attorney general who refused to end raids on legal medical dispensaries. i think as of know the us has a better chance of banning gay marriage across the board than legalizing any drug.

JonF June 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Our last three presidents (counting the current one) had a history of drug use in their youth.
Which points to an important fact: most people can dabble in social drug use just like they can dabble in social drinking. They don’t become addicts and often give it up altogether as they age and accumulate responsibilities.

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

Man, that list of commissioners does have a darn strong western hemisphere bias. Pakistan is the only one eastern country I could see. Glaring omissions would be China, Russia, India, middle east, and all of the south east Asian nations.

Now is this just a red herring or do we have a strong policy divide over the issue?! Are eastern nations not included because the intellectual current there does not suit the leanings of the makers of this report?

PS. Wonder what the average age of that commission is? I’m taking a guess: 65.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

The United States drives the war on drugs.

Edward Burke June 4, 2011 at 10:59 am

To RJP’s point: the fact that “the war on drugs” (WOD) retains political potency is not only a sign of cowardice on the parts of sitting politicians but a sign of the power of Federal political intimidation that WOD continues to possess after decade upon decade upon decade of manifest failure.
To y81’s point: yes, in fact, legalization of cannabis alone would be insufficient in combatting murderous drug cartels’ fights over market share; but failure to seriously consider legalization of “dangerous” coca and opium is perhaps what continues to stall efforts simply to decriminalize or legalize “benign” cannabis.
Coca and opium could both be legalized “safely” if trade in raw, unrefined products were the basis for the trade. If coca and opium markets were limited to production and sale of only raw product, regulation of refined products would presumably be easy enough, since purchases of volumes of raw product large enough for profitable refining into “dangerous” forms (crack, heroin) could be tracked in the market (assuming market statisticians would pay greater attention to market movements here than they did with homebuilding rates in California, Florida, Nevada, et cetera, in recent years). Markets in refined cocaine and heroin could well be limited by price (the price difference between an inexpensive beer and a premium single-malt scotch being my usual rule of thumb).
Not only would new sources of tax revenue be created, but the waste of spending on fruitless interdiction efforts and “criminal justice” would be curtailed. Relative political stability and economic viability would accrue to producers like Peru and Afghanistan as to consumers like Americans and Iranians (Iran still accounts for the world’s highest per capita consumption of opium, no? Raw opium is consumed by five to eight percent of the population routinely, or was as recently as five years ago).
Pipe dreams, right?

Bertie Wooster June 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

State Monopoly on the production and supply of drugs = fiscal crisis over, Medicare in surplus in perpetuity etc.

msgkings June 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

No, the numbers don’t add up, it’s not even close.

When they were debating legalizing marijuana in California and discussing the potential tax revenue, the figures were something like $1 billion/year to the state at most. That’s a nice piece of change, but it doesn’t even reduce that one state’s annual deficit by 10%.

In its current form, Medicare’s future deficits are orders of magnitude higher. Drug legalization wouldn’t make a dent, even including the $ saved on the drug ‘war’ and potential tax revenue.

jonathan June 5, 2011 at 12:48 am

Wouldn’t legalization also free up law enforcement, courts, penal and parole systems, et al.? There’s a lot of resources freed up from the war on drugs when the goal is to regulate via taxation vs. discourage through prohibition.

msgkings June 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Agreed, but as I mentioned, the $ saved on ending the ‘drug war’ (law enforcement, courts, penal system, etc) is still a tiny tiny drop in the bucket compared to the Medicare hole. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing all the money that can be made and saved by legalizing some or all drugs, I was just replying to the comment that far over-exaggerated the amounts that can be made/saved.

dearieme June 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’m wondering whether the US’s “Global War on Drugs” has done more harm to Latin America that her many wars there?

Slocum June 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I would say yes, absolutely — look at just what’s been happening in Mexico in the last few years, with tens of thousands of drug-war related deaths.

Scott H. June 4, 2011 at 11:57 am

I am a conservative/libertarian and I am in favor of this. However, politically, the legalization movement is very, very weak. Look at the legalization effort in California. Basically, it was a bait and switch campaign. The talk was all about poor glaucoma victims. Now, on Venice beach, you hear about cannabis as a cure for “anxiety”. Do we really want the medical profession prostituting itself out so that we can get around the law? What doctor would prescribe cigarettes? Its stupid; its a sham; its the wrong way to go.

I guess what I’m getting at above is that the legalizers haven’t really hit the debate head on. Until they start doing that the intellectual battle will never be won.

Here is my strategy, for those that would be into the politics…

1.) Get politicians and spokespersons who do not do drugs, but are in favor of legalization. The last thing we want is some hippy pothead giving his/her 2 cents on TV.
2.) Talk about individual liberty. Get the person to think… yes, I guess its OK for the government to stop all those idiots from taking drugs, but do I really believe that they should throw ME in jail if I decide to experiment? Get them to ask the question: “Who is the gov’t to tell ME I can’t smoke pot?” When a person thinks in terms of their own freedom instead of controlling others, their opinion could change.
3.) Talk about the availability and use of drugs under the War on Drugs — its still everywhere and people can easily get it. The War’s goals clearly aren’t being met.
4.) Talk about the creation and finance of world-wide criminal syndicates based on the black market premiums that illegal drugs end up creating.
5.) Talk about the disintegration of governments in South America due to the influence of drug money. For a market as large as the USA, we still have problems with the power of drug money. In Latin America that power is a few orders of magnitude larger. There is just no way to combat it and their society is going under.
6.) The LAST THING to talk about is how much you want your weed and how much money could be raised. Nobody cares about you. Everyone knows their will be money, but it won’t be significant — its just not an argument to change people’s minds.

My take.

dirk June 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Good points. The argument about legalizing drugs should be that it reduces violent crime. Period. Here’s how I frame the argument: drug dealers merely produce commodities. What is it that makes illegal commodity producers so particularly violent?

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm

“What doctor would prescribe cigarettes?” Cigarettes accelerate cancer in SOME people. Did you hear about the prescription drug that Stevie Nicks says robbed a decade of her life?

Drugs have side effects. If cigarettes were an alternative to that drug then it’s not in reality “stupid,” what you are talking about is PR to convince stupid people. I don’t do much with politics anymore other than wait, it’s actually liberating to conclude the government sucks, probably because people suck, and then get on with things in life that actually benefit you rather than wasting time on idiots while being ready to talk to a non-idiot who is open-minded.

FYI June 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Scott,

All your points could work if we didn’t have socialized health care in the mix. The government has no right to tell you not to use drugs *unless* it pays for you rehab.

So the situation today is much worse for that argument to be made. That is one of the reasons why they use all the other fake arguments about decreasing costs and eliminating crime.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm

FYI,

We’re the guys saying pay for your own damn rehab.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm

We don’t have to repeal all socialized medicine to get across the point that some health problems are due to choices.

Also, it’s not like we don’t already pay for rehab. You are assuming rehab costs would increase greater than other savings. Rehab by SWAT sux.

dirk June 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Thank you. But why would the recommendation especially apply to cannabis? It isn’t cannabis which is destroying Mexico and central America.

Legalization needs coordination throughout the hemisphere. The war on drugs in the U.S. needs to end at the same time as it does in Latin America.

What politicians support this? I believe Ron Paul and son do. Vote for Ron Paul!

Scott H. June 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Well, that is a good question. I don’t think that these recommendations only apply to cannabis. However, to be practical, cannabis should go first. I think that it is too radical to legalize cannabis, crack, and heroine (and others) all in one bill. First, it would be nice to draw upon the experience of legalized pot to help guide the legalization of the other drugs. Also, these other drugs are more dangerous than pot and may require more regulatory nuance. I would hate for the whole effort to fail because we try to go too far too fast.

Btw, good luck Sunday night — Go Mavs!

DK June 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Because cannabis is mildest of them all, an essentially non-addictive drug. One step at a time.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The principles apply to whatever they apply to. We are talking about people who don’t believe that.

dirk June 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm

In the case of Mexico, they would do well to privatize their oil industry at the same time they end the war on drugs. The smart ambitious entrepreneurs in the drug business should have a way to become entrepreneurs in other important industries. Mexico’s stupid national oil industry could use a lot of help.

msgkings June 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm

You are highlighting a disturbing parallel between drug production and addiction and oil production and ‘addiction’.

Gerald June 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m all for drug legalization as long as it doesn’t lead to a large welfare-dependent-junkie population. Unfortunately, when confronted with this issue most legalization proponents spout wildly unrealistic predictions about “rehabilitation” and “treatment”. Legalization, like uncontrolled immigration, is incompatible with a strong social safety net.

JonF June 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

We already have that population. The horse is out of the barn, as they say. Pretty much everyone (OK, everyone over a certain age) in this sociey who can become an addict is either actively addicted or in recovery.

Chris June 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’m ok as long as the dependent junkie population is less than the dependent prison population.

Terrance June 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Or you could require insurance or have pigovian taxes that cover the cost of potential rehabilitation or care. I like the idea of requiring licenses for drug use. These licenses would cost a fee based on the probabilistic consequences of use of that drug that would be born by society of trying a drug at all, and then pigovian taxes would cover the marginal probability of each additional dose creating a cost to society. I don’t think most drugs would need terrifically expensive licenses and the ones that did (heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, barbiturates) there probably wouldn’t be a significantly worse situation than the status quo (the license would simply be too expensive to be preferable to illegal use but we’d be no worse either allowing a handful of people to buy into a drug/insurance package resale would seldom be a problem as the black market would work better for that anyways).

DK June 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Everyone talking about any of the downside of the drug legalization must firmly keep in mind alcohol. Any argument that pretends that we don’t have any experience with 100% legal and very dangerous drug is simply dishonest.

Scott H. June 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Well, based on my conservative/libertarian principles we shouldn’t have a strong social safety net anyways — lol. More seriously, I don’t have an issue with putting more requirements on any kind of social safety net. Doing drugs seems like a privilege more than a right. Once you go on the dole — no more drugs.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm

“Legalization, like uncontrolled immigration, is incompatible with a strong social safety net.”

Actually, I would say probably not, but even so it might be incompatible with a poorly executed social safety net run by people who don’t understand insurance concepts such as “one must pay in to qualify.”

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Point being, don’t blame immigration and drugs for our dumb safety net, just like you don’t blame old people because they get old and the Ponzi scheme is exposed as a Ponzi scheme. The problem is the structure of the Ponzi scheme.

Btw, what is magic about drug use and the safety net? Should people not be allowed to do other things correlated with utilizing the safety net?

Rahul June 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm

not be allowed to do other things correlated with utilizing the safety net?

Childbirth?

mulp June 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Legalizing drugs doesn’t mean a free market in drugs, but a market like that for the existing licit drugs like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, opiates, stimulants, downers, etc. And gambling which is often self induced drug driven.

The costs of incarcerating users for merely using the drugs will be replaced by those irresponsibly using them, for those selling the drugs replaced by those irresponsibly selling them.

And the costs associated with them will be offset by taxes on the sales like the taxes on alcohol and tobacco. And gambling.

Let’s remember the constitutional amendment overriding the SCOTUS ruling prohibiting the income tax was required to enable prohibition – the tariff revenue from spirits and tobacco and tea were critical to funding government, and tobacco and tea were next on the prohibitionist hit list of things to ban. They prohibited pot, opiates, and cocaine before turning to alcohol. It was the stand case of
- they prohibited opiates and I ignored them
- then they prohibited cocaine and I said good riddance
- then they prohibited pot and I said it served the niggers right
- then they prohibited alcohol but how could I speak for me when I hadn’t before
- then they tried to prohibit tea and coffee, and that was a step too far and I rebelled.

jorod June 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Let people grow their own marijuana for personal use.

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm

NOT inhaling does this to your brain.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4XT-l-_3y0

For the love of god, INHALE!!!

Andrew' June 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm

http://www.cedro-uva.org/lib/reinarman.dutch.html

“Tens of millions of citizens — most of whom have never used drugs and all of whom are supposed to be presumed innocent — are subjected to supervised urine tests to get jobs and then to keep jobs.”

That’s a good point, and I’d settle for the government taking responsibility for their inability to prevent drug use rather than outsourcing the destruction of civil liberties through fears of legal liability.

Sleazy P Martini June 4, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I hope you’re not suggesting that private companies wouldn’t be able to dictate the terms on which employees maintain employment with them under drug legalization?

Dr.Nick June 4, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I can see legalizing marijuana and allowing it to be sold next to cigarettes and alcohol will end the violence and illicit drug trade associated with marijuana. But how is decriminalizing heroin and cocaine going to impact the drug trade- just by cutting into the margin?

Is any legal store going to be selling cocaine and heroin next to cigarettes? Doubtful. Even if there’s some sort of medical dispensation of cocaine and heroin, are Pfizer or Bayer going to be making industrial quantities of heroin or cocaine? Doubtful. Addicts will want more than the medical authorities will want to give them. The most decriminalization will do for hard drugs is to cut into the margin for the illicit producers and distributors by making the drugs a little cheaper. Decriminalization is a lot different from complete legalization.

albatross June 4, 2011 at 11:36 pm

In a world with cigarettes and 190 proof alcohol, yeah, I expect that private companies will be willing to sell legal but controversial, dangerous products.

Dr.Nick June 5, 2011 at 3:08 am

Really. You’re going to be able to buy cocaine and heroin at the drug store, without a prescription. After the disaster of Oxycontin? Right.

Floccina June 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm

the commissioners are so stellar it will be difficult to ignore

Surely you jest.

Master of None June 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

What are the implications of this for Bitcoin? Someone should ask Eli Dourado…

bunker brown June 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

No one in America cares what a bunch of foreigners have to say.

Some of these countries are complete basket cases. Why don’t they decriminalize first and then come talk to us?

It is always easy to dictate to America, but no one tries to fix their own problems.

The PolyCapitalist June 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm

War on Drugs, say hello to Silk Road: the Amazon.com of illegal drugs

http://www.polycapitalist.com/2011/06/war-on-drugs-say-hello-to-silk-road.html

youzer June 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm

“people who use drugs but who do no harm to others”

Who might that be?

axa June 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

about the long discussion over the “cocaine uncle” please read page number 14 of the report found on: http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

Angry Voter June 8, 2011 at 11:59 pm

If the true goal of unlicensed drug prohibition is to protect the profits of the companies that ‘donate’ (bribe) politicians, then it has been an astounding success! More profitable than the S&L scam, lasting longer than the junk mortgage bond scam the drug civil war has been immensely profitable for some.

For others, it destroyed life and liberty but hey, they probably weren’t gonna contribute to the reelection campaign anyway.

Ray Ban Eyeglasses June 9, 2011 at 6:01 am

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.vcxbcb

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: