Resolved: The US should legalize all drugs
Some resources that might be useful for a debate on the drug war, and a place for commentary on the debate or general discussion of this topic.
All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs - with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes - a twelvefold increase since 1980 - with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana - and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible. In the course of fighting this war, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes.
It is of course true, but only trivially so, that the present illegality of drugs is the cause of the criminality surrounding their distribution. Likewise, it is the illegality of stealing cars that creates car thieves. In fact, the ultimate cause of all criminality is law. As far as I am aware, no one has ever suggested that law should therefore be abandoned. Moreover, the impossibility of winning the “war” against theft, burglary, robbery, and fraud has never been used as an argument that these categories of crime should be abandoned. And so long as the demand for material goods outstrips supply, people will be tempted to commit criminal acts against the owners of property. This is not an argument, in my view, against private property or in favor of the common ownership of all goods. It does suggest, however, that we shall need a police force for a long time to come. In any case, there are reasons to doubt whether the crime rate would fall quite as dramatically as advocates of legalization have suggested. Amsterdam, where access to drugs is relatively unproblematic, is among the most violent and squalid cities in Europe.
Milton Friedman leads a list of more than 500 economists from around the U.S. who today will publicly endorse a Harvard University economist's report on the costs of marijuana prohibition and the potential revenue gains from the U.S. government instead legalizing it and taxing its sale. Ending prohibition enforcement would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, the report says, while taxation would yield up to $6.2 billion a year.
As long as the United States and other drugconsuming countries pursue a prohibitionist strategy, a massive black market premium exists that will make the cultivation of drug crops far more lucrative than competing crops in Afghanistan or any other drugsource country. For many Afghan farmers, growing opium poppies is the difference between prosperity and destitution. There is a serious risk that they will turn against the United States and the U.S.-supported government of President Hamid Karzai if Washington and Kabul pursue vigorous anti-drug programs. In addition, regional warlords who have helped the United States combat Al Qaeda and Taliban forces derive substantial profits from the drug trade. They use those revenues to pay the militias that keep them in power. A drug eradication campaign could easily drive important warlords into alliance with America’s terrorist adversaries.
The Legalization Lobby claims that the fight against drugs cannot be won. However, overall drug use is down by more than a third in the last twenty years, while cocaine use has dropped by an astounding 70 percent. Ninety-five percent of Americans do not use drugs. This is success by any standards. [...] Crime, violence and drug use go hand in hand. Six times as many homicides are committed by people under the influence of drugs, as by those who are looking for money to buy drugs. Most drug crimes aren’t committed by people trying to pay for drugs; they’re committed by people on drugs.
In particular, researchers have examined U.S. experience in regulating gambling and tobacco and alcohol use, as well as experience with legal cocaine a century ago. They also sought analogies in the looser regulatory stances of countries such as The Netherlands and Switzerland. Among the lessons they drew was the importance not so much of legalization as of drug commercialization in increasing the frequency of use. They emphasized the very different kinds of effects that prohibition and legalization have and the difficulty of trading these off against each other, and the likelihood that the benefits and costs of legalization would not be distributed evenly across society. Finally, they pointed out the possibility of realizing some gain in loosening the prohibitionist straitjacket typifying current U.S. drug policy in a manner that falls well short of legalization.
Submitted by Brendan on Thu, 2008-01-17 13:01