Prohibition still doesn’t work
One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The “war on drugs” is a classic example of insanity at a world-wide level. We learned in the early 20th century that prohibition doesn’t work. Our experience with alcohol should have at least given us the basis for rejecting another such prohibition when it came to drugs. However we have charged ahead and for decades waged what can only be termed a horribly expensive, liberty stealing campaign against drug use that has empowered criminal organizations and allowed them to become powerful enough to challenge some governments.
As should be clear to anyone, the “War on Drugs” is an epic failure. If you don’t believe it, imagine numbers like this for any legitimate business and then factor in the ongoing campaign to deny the flow of the product:
It cites UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%.
In the face of the full might of the government of the US and many other governments in the world, this illegal enterprise has managed to supply demand that in some cases has increased 35% world wide. And it has cost us billions in “enforcement”, filled our jails and essentially had no effect whatsoever on the net side of things.
What did we learn from our own prohibition era? Apparently nothing. The market that exists today for drugs is eerily similar to that which existed for alcohol during the era of prohibition. It is a “black” market that exists because the demand exists, and government is single-handedly responsible for its existence.
Simple economics spells out how this works. There is an unfulfilled demand and whether or not you agree with the demand, the market will do all in its power to fill it. Government declaring something “illegal” may dampen demand – at least for a while – but the market will still do its best to fill the demand as long as there’s a profit to be made. All government does is change the nature of the market in question. It can be legal (which means regulated, controlled and taxed) or illegal (which usually means unregulated, untaxed and usually dominated by criminals and gangs), but it is not going to go away just because a government declares something “illegal”.
For whatever reason, after observing the results of the existing (and mostly unchanged) drug policies over decades, our political leaders still can’t seem to figure out the fact that they’re not going to “win” this battle. However, they can change the market dynamic tremendously simply by backing off of their desire to control what we consume and understanding that the best way to address such a market is through acceptance, regulation and taxation (yeah, I know, you never thought you’d hear a libertarian say that, but let’s be clear – that’s what we did with alcohol and it has worked).
The argument that people will go hog wild if drugs are legalized I find to be as nonsensical as when the argument was used about alcohol during the prohibition era. Those that are going to use drugs are most likely using them now. Additionally, part of the allure of drugs is their illegality. Yes, those with addictive personalities are probably going to get hooked on something – but given the inability of governments to stop drugs to this point, they’re likely already hooked on something anyway. The point is having this all out in the open and legal removes tremendous costs from “enforcement” and the revenue generated by regulated drug sales could be put toward treatment regimes. It also puts the criminals out of business and ends the drug related violence.
To this point, the War on Drugs has been an epic failure. All it has done is criminalize a behavior, create a market for now powerful criminals, and wasted our tax dollars on trying to control behavior.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy report calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users.
I agree. Of course, according to the story, the US and Mexican governments disagree. Therefore the war on the border will continue, the funding of criminal (and terror) organizations will continue, and the militarization of the police and the resultant violation of the rights of citizens will also continue. Jails will continue to fill even while drug sales continue to grow.
Our current drug policies are insane. The numbers prove it. It is time to stop the knee-jerk reaction to the term “drugs” and drastically reassess our approach to their control and use. We’ve been through this before. It is time we reviewed that era and applied its lessons.