Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jeffrey Miron: Legalize Drugs To Stop Violence In Mexico

This is the best editorial I've ever read about the need for drug legalization. It's by Jeffrey A. Miron, a senior economics lecturer at Harvard. I don't copy and past entire pieces very often (since I usually try to paraphrase things and pass them off as original thought) but this was too good to pass up. Here's Jeffrey Miron:

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Over the past two years, drug violence in Mexico has become a fixture of the daily news. Some of this violence pits drug cartels against one another; some involves confrontations between law enforcement and traffickers.
Recent estimates suggest thousands have lost their lives in this "war on drugs."
The U.S. and Mexican responses to this violence have been predictable: more troops and police, greater border controls and expanded enforcement of every kind. Escalation is the wrong response, however; drug prohibition is the cause of the violence.
Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.

Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.
Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted. Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question.

The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs. Fortuitously, legalization is the right policy for a slew of other reasons.
Prohibition of drugs corrupts politicians and law enforcement by putting police, prosecutors, judges and politicians in the position to threaten the profits of an illicit trade. This is why bribery, threats and kidnapping are common for prohibited industries but rare otherwise. Mexico's recent history illustrates this dramatically.
Prohibition erodes protections against unreasonable search and seizure because neither party to a drug transaction has an incentive to report the activity to the police. Thus, enforcement requires intrusive tactics such as warrantless searches or undercover buys. The victimless nature of this so-called crime also encourages police to engage in racial profiling.

Prohibition has disastrous implications for national security. By eradicating coca plants in Colombia or poppy fields in Afghanistan, prohibition breeds resentment of the United States. By enriching those who produce and supply drugs, prohibition supports terrorists who sell protection services to drug traffickers.

Prohibition harms the public health. Patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other conditions cannot use marijuana under the laws of most states or the federal government despite abundant evidence of its efficacy. Terminally ill patients cannot always get adequate pain medication because doctors may fear prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Drug users face restrictions on clean syringes that cause them to share contaminated needles, thereby spreading HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.
Prohibitions breed disrespect for the law because despite draconian penalties and extensive enforcement, huge numbers of people still violate prohibition. This means those who break the law, and those who do not, learn that obeying laws is for suckers.

Prohibition is a drain on the public purse. Federal, state and local governments spend roughly $44 billion per year to enforce drug prohibition. These same governments forego roughly $33 billion per year in tax revenue they could collect from legalized drugs, assuming these were taxed at rates similar to those on alcohol and tobacco. Under prohibition, these revenues accrue to traffickers as increased profits.

The right policy, therefore, is to legalize drugs while using regulation and taxation to dampen irresponsible behavior related to drug use, such as driving under the influence. This makes more sense than prohibition because it avoids creation of a black market. This approach also allows those who believe they benefit from drug use to do so, as long as they do not harm others.
Legalization is desirable for all drugs, not just marijuana. The health risks of marijuana are lower than those of many other drugs, but that is not the crucial issue. Much of the traffic from Mexico or Colombia is for cocaine, heroin and other drugs, while marijuana production is increasingly domestic. Legalizing only marijuana would therefore fail to achieve many benefits of broader legalization.

It is impossible to reconcile respect for individual liberty with drug prohibition. The U.S. has been at the forefront of this puritanical policy for almost a century, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad.

The U.S. repealed Prohibition of alcohol at the height of the Great Depression, in part because of increasing violence and in part because of diminishing tax revenues. Similar concerns apply today, and Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement that the Drug Enforcement Administration will not raid medical marijuana distributors in California suggests an openness in the Obama administration to rethinking current practice.
Perhaps history will repeat itself, and the U.S. will abandon one of its most disastrous policy experiments.

Pics from here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here .


Lisa said...

Wonderful editorial that explains exactly what has been wrong with the war on drugs, too bad common sense takes so long to catch on.

Gar said...

I am curious how highly the legalization of drugs ranks in the list of things you'd like the government to do (or not to do as the case may be).
How would you feel if the current administration came out and said, "We are going to pay for the socialization of health care by legalizing drugs and using the tax revenue to cover the costs."?
Over simplified, of course, and just an example; but still?

Lisa said...

I think we should not think of it as socializing health care but instead demanding more fiscal responsibility from our health care dollars. I think that we could have balanced the budget long ago if we legalized and taxed drugs. What we have spent on the failed war on drugs could have gone for health care. I guess the answer to your question would be I would be doing cartwheels in the streets and I have never done a cartwheel!

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I don't know why, but an astounding number of people look at the weed legalization issue as a form of tax revenue more than anything else.

The cost of imprisoning drug users/dealers/smugglers isn't quite as high (no pun intended) as the cost of healthcare. But I still think it would be a horrible idea to use the legalization of one to pay for the destruction of the other.

Jay@Soob said...

A-bloody-men to that article.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Agree with WS as usual. When I first thought about the concept of drug legalization 20-odd years ago, my first thought was "Tax it!". That thought really originated in shame and distancing myself from the appearance of endorsing drug use. I don't endorse drug use still - but since I've become more 'enlightened', I don't endorse increasing legalized theft either.

I really have become more enlightened since I was 21 or so. It's possible.

Suzette Watkins said...

TarrantGuy - You tell us your first thought -- how bout "2nd thought?"

Gar said...

TLG and WS. I agree with what you are saying, but it comes off sounding stubborn.

I think a great number of Libertarians come off to the public as sounding like spoiled brats who want their cake, icing and get to eat it all.

My point, in my earlier comment, was what you would give up in exchange for drug legalization or is it even that important.

I understand that you don't want to tax it, you don't want to try and use any revenues saved or generated to pay for anything, etc. But would you be willing to meet the halfway on another issue?

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Hey Suzette... If you're referring to the 'thought' mentioned in my previous comment - it was my thought of legalizing then taxing. The thought of taxing drugs was a kneejerk way of finding a 'socially acceptable' way of appeasing those who can't see the logic in stopping the drug war. I still think drugs are wrong - but now I see that taxing is just as wrong.

The reason prohibition was repealed was that people could remember what it was like before prohibition. They saw it was obviously worse than before, turning ordinary people into criminals by consuming beer or gin - and turning criminals into violent criminals through murderous gang wars to defend their turf for alcohol sales. People in 2009 can't see that things are much worse today than before 1913 when the drug war started. Interesting: there was really just as much drug use then as today. Remember: Cocaine was a regularly prescribed drug and was a major ingredient in most cola drinks - like COCA-cola and PEPsi... "it gives you 'pep'!"...

Since people can't remember that things were MUCH better than before the drug war, they also can't remember or figure out:

...that $50+ BILLION is spent dealing with NON-violent drug offenders each friggin' year!
...that 4,000 people wouldn't have died in Mexico in a year.
...that millions of people's lives wouldn't be ruined - not by drug use - but by a criminal record preventing them from getting good jobs
...that for some reason people can take asprin (drived from willow bark originally) or opiates but cannot take marijuana as a drug to offset cancer treatment side effects or give palliative care to terminally ill patients.
...That addiction rates have always hovered around the same area since statistics were taken (pre-prohibition) thereby making the drug war the biggest, most expensive failure in our nation's war-history.
...that legalization seems to DECREASE drug-use (weird but true) in countries that have de-criminalized certain drugs. AND violent crime always decreases.
...that cigarettes kill many more people than almost anything and have never been illegal and not only legal -but SUBSIDIZED by our government!!
...the profits for thugs to distribute drugs would be erased, thereby eliminating gang violence. What happened to the mafia/Capones/Siegels/Kennedys after alcohol prohibition was lifted? They shifted to drugs/prostitution/gambling/politics. They simply 'followed the money'.

Legalize drugs and all those problems above go away. "Oh, yeah! So, you want all of our school children to be heroin addicts??", critics asks using the greatest straw man argument they've got (children). I say they should ask most kids in any junior high or high school how available drugs are. You can buy pot and many other drugs within 5 minutes of any high school now. Why's that? Because there's profit to be made in selling to kids. Try to get a 14 year old to buy beer or cigs at a 7-11. MUCH more difficult. Why? Because the clerk goes to jail or ticketed and the cost of selling to kids is much higher than the profit motive. Not so much for ILLEGAL drugs.

By keeping drugs illegal the government doesn't have to admit an almost century long war that wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of lives and families lost to gang violence - or lost to jail time. By keeping drugs illegal they get to feel good by protecting people from themselves. But as my friend Todd Hedgcoth says "Would you rather do what's right or what feels good?"

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

If the only way to pass legislation is to tax it, and no other way, maybe. But, I would want to see if there could be a phase out or sunset.

The only problem is that temporary taxes NEVER stay temporary. Remember, the telephone excise tax on your phone bill today was the temporary tax to fund the Spanish-American War. That war should be funded by now.

The offset caused by the elimination of costs to enforce drug policy should really be enough. Oh, and remember, - the costs of legal drugs would go down dramatically, so people who are addicted to stuff - alcohol included - could work to pay for their stuff rather than steal stuff to pay for their super expensive habits. Taxing them (like cigs, where taxes sometimes exceed the cost of the product) would send the cost higher, forcing people into crime to pay for their stuff - which is now as expensive as before! Talk about a regressive tax!!

observer said...

This guy is a sick fuck who has only the dollar in mind. first, this is not going to eliminate cartels, they are going to thrive, and gang violence is going to be sky high for market control. Secondly, the kids are in danger, cause many of them are 'followers', they repeat the actions of some 'trend makers'; they are going to do drugs in mass (concerts, parties), and the bad news is that while alcohol can impaire someone, it is not extremely dangerous (I'm not talking about coma) for health. Adictive drogatics can overdose easily, and the psycological impact is extremely strong: depression, schizophrenia, dementia, extreme agresivity (cocaine). There is no normal usage for strong drugs.

Whoever makes an analogy between prohibitia and drug prohibition (I'm talking about the strong ones) is a stupid moron and an ignorant fuck!! o bottle of wine might keep you out of the highway, but a dose of cocaine+heroine makes you an idiotic ape out of control or a vegetable out of this world.

pro arguments are useless in this case - go see a detox clinique and talk later..

The Whited Sepulchre said...

You are correct about the effects of heroin-based drugs.
However, we might as well be trying to keep hydrogen out of our water. It ain't going to happen.

You're mistaken, however, about what would happen with the market share. As long as production is open to everyone, it's impossible for the market to be cornered or controlled by anyone.

Oh...wait a minute....the players in the market will probably be controlled by Congress. I take it all back.

Unknown said...

I respectfully disagree with the notion that legalization can work -- no matter what the economists, pundits, and typical internet commenter have to say about it, I don't believe it's a viable solution. I recently wrote an exhaustive post about the topic. Please give it a read if you'd like to see things from a different perspective. You can find the post here: http://thefrankspot.blogspot.com/2009/04/legalizing-drugs-zero-percent-solution.html

Anonymous said...

This shows how far brainwashing can go!

Mr Miron, please legalize drugs into your own country, not remote ones. Then I will personally come and offer drugs to your children, any quantity they require and I will personally see that they become heavy drug users.
Do we have a deal?

In the same twisted logic, legalize incest to stop domestic noises caused by struggling mothers and sisters.

God, you people are a shame to the planet! You really have no common sense left.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Brave Anon,
I don't know anyone who advocates selling (or giving) drugs to kids.
Because kids aren't "people" yet. That's why it's legal for their parents to tell them what to do, and that's why it's illegal for parents to neglect them.
They can't make their own choices.

On the other hand, we have cages filled with non-violent offenders convicted of marijuana posession or use. The #1 growth industry in the U.S. is this form of "People Farming". It costs about $25,000.00 per year to keep one of them locked up.

No marijuana user, that i know of, has ever done me any harm because of his or her drug use.

Our government, however, has done me a great deal of harm by allowing criminals to have a monopoly on these substances.

Keeping drugs out of the "People Farms" referenced earlier is impossible. There are fences, walls, and armed guards. The supply creates the demand, and vice-versa.

We can't keep drugs out of prisons, but you think you can keep them out of Texas? With hundreds of miles of border and coastline?

How many prisoners are you personally willing to subsidize?

Anonymous said...

It is about freedom. The forefathers wanted us to have it and the current government does not.