Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I support drug legalization

The United States consumers more drugs than any other country in the world. Proudly and valiantly, we are spending billions of dollars every year and costing thousands of lives in a campaign to forcefully stop people from trading and using drugs. With this approach, we have not decreased drug use at all; what he have done is wreaked havoc in developing countries who have to deal with the large criminal organizations that arise in the trade. Our efforts would be much more successful if we made drugs legal and spent our money on education, prevention, and rehabilitation than on trying to eradicate the trade that cannot be eradicated. Please, read on.

Colombia and the US spend more than $2 billion every year to crack down on Colombian drug production using physical force and patrolling. By arresting producers, spraying poison on crops, and patrolling borders, they have curbed production by a little more every year. But this reduction in supply doesn't matter one bit.

Every bit of progress we make in reducing production in Colombia simply raises the price of drugs and incentivizes people in other countries to make a killing by growing drugs. It's no surprise that as drug production has slowed in Colombia, it has increased in Bolivia and Peru. Even if you spend half the national budget policing all of South America and prevented anyone from growing drugs, the price of drugs would skyrocket and people all over the world would start making a killing off of producing drugs. If there is a demand, there will always be a supply.

Drug use in the US has barely been affected, despite it being illegal and despite spending billions of dollars fighting those who trade drugs. In 2009, 42% of US high schoolers said they could get drugs within 24 hours or less, an all time high.

The entire drug cartel war that is hammering Mexico's stability and economy is the result of American drug use. Because drugs are illegal and therefore very lucrative (wholesale drug sellers are estimated to earn between $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually), those who trade them become extremely wealthy and are able to buy weapons, bribe entire police departments with millions of dollars to allow them to continue trading, and violently defend their trading routes. The Mexican government and people are the ones who have to face this mess, and it is costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Mexicans killed because of drug cartel violence:

2,477 killed in 2007
6,290 killed in 2008
7,724 killed in 2009
6,768 killed to date in 2010

The US Defense Department funded a two year study which found that the use of the armed forces to interdict drugs coming into the United States would have minimal or no effect on cocaine traffic and might, in fact, raise the profits of cocaine cartels and manufacturers. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, after reviewing the efficiency of the actions taken by the Colombian government for more than 20 years, has called for the coke consuming countries - mostly in Europe and North America to take their share of responsibility and reduce demand for cocaine. As I have lived in Monterrey and seen the horrible violence that the vast majority of innocent Mexicans have to dealt with (two students at my own university got caught in the middle of a firefight and were killed this March, and hundreds of others in the city), I have felt guilty as a neighbor for being from the country that is causing it.

I know it sounds crazy, but just imagine how things might be if drugs were legal. They would still be grown and imported (just as other harmful substances like tobacco), but not by millionare narco-terrorists using machine guns and grenades to get them across the border. Peaceful cocaine farmers would grow them just like tobacco, and they would be put on boats and trains and checked at the customs office, just like any other good, and taxed, earning the government a hefty income instead of an enormous expense fighting the trade. A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue.

Now for the big question: would legalizing drugs increase usage in the United States? The Netherlands has a largely legalized policy on drugs, and their drug usage rates are about average for Europe (despite some tricky statistics that try to show otherwise--here's the hard data). Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001 and has significantly lowered drug use and nearly doubled treatment rates. (great report here) Why is this?
  • Increased availability=little impact on usage (people who want drugs can already get them easily)
  • Decrease in price of drugs=increase in usage
  • Billions of dollars spent on prevention and education and rehab instead of policing=decrease in usage
Study after study finds the same thing: that we need to attack the demand for drugs instead of the supply. The panel of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy commission concluded that the countries involved in this war should remove the "taboos" and re-examine the anti-drug programs. Latin American governments have followed the advice of the U.S. to combat the drug war, but the policies have had little effect. The commission made some recommendations to President Obama to consider new policies, such as legalization of marijuana and to treat drug use as a public health problem and not as a security problem. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs states it is time to seriously consider drug decriminalization and legalization.

In the 90's, the government paid for a study by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. The study concluded that money spend on prevention and rehab was 8 times more effective at reducing drug use than money spend fighting the drug trade. But Clinton's drug czar decided to go the traditional route, increased funding for law enforcement instead. Funding was increased even more under Bush.

California is expected to legalize marujana this fall, and to that I give my salute. It sounds shocking and it's taboo to say you support legalization of drugs, but being pro-drug legalization doesn't mean you support drug use. It is simply a vote for a far less expensive, far less deadly, and far more effective solution.

(see also Legalization of Alcohol, Prohibition)

1 comment:

  1. Way to be thinking Jim. There are no easy answers to be sure, but I like that you are so reasonable and wise at a young age. :)