Fantasy, Reality, Legislation, and the Drug War

by pjamesbeardsley

This article by Reason.com’s Mike Riggs was recently posted about drug war.  Several characters within the Obama White House have been parroting the typical half-and-less-than-half truths.  Hope and change indeed.

I don’t advocate drug use.  In fact, I advocate the exact opposite: not drug use. Let me make something clear: unless you have a legitimate medical reason to use certain chemicals, you shouldn’t hurt your body with those chemicals.  It’s immoral, sinful, counterproductive, and will get expensive.  I’m not out to make your choices for you, but if you want my advice, there it is.

Some people imagine that the opposite is anti-drug legislation.  They are wrong.

In fantasy land, legislation fixes problems.  “Make it a law” that everyone buys health insurance, earns a certain minimum hourly rate of pay, and doesn’t use or sell certain intoxicating chemicals, then magically everyone has health insurance, is both productive on a certain level and compensated for it, and doesn’t use drugs! Done!

In reality, legislation that does anything other than directly protect people and their property from violence distorts free markets.  “Make it a law” that everyone buys health insurance, and health insurance prices skyrocket.  Minimum wage legislation makes everyone unwilling or unable to find a job that pays a certain hourly rate unemployable.  The drug war merely drives the drug trade into the black market.

What does that do?  It makes drugs artificially scarce, driving up prices and driving down the safety and quality.  It makes the profit margins massive and the industry criminal, drawing the most ruthless criminals into the trade.  It also makes the government unable to place a reasonable consumption tax on such an item.

It fills prisons.  The United States has the most restrictive drug laws in the world, and also has the most drug related crime and highest prison population by percentage.  Prisoners cost money.  The government must take this money from somewhere else.

Prisoners tend to remain in prison.  The single greatest indicator of whether or not an individual will go to prison in the future is whether or not he has been to prison in the past.  It’s a big resume stain and time wasted not gaining valuable skills.  Double whammy; huge comparative disadvantage.  So what do they turn to? Crime.  Costs money to enforce those crimes and put the ex-cons through trials and back into prison.

So the drug war:

–Might keep some people from using drugs
–Fills prisons, which is expensive
–Drives down government revenue by keeping otherwise productive people in prison
–Drives down government revenue by keeping a taxable item off the market
–Raises crime, which is dangerous and expensive
–Creates a market in which violence thrives
–Creates a market in which the product is more unsafe

And that list is far from exhaustive.

All to keep some people who want to use drugs from using drugs.  Which, by the way, how’s that going?

End the War on Drugs.  End all wars on ill-defined, abstract nouns.

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