Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stronger the Drug Laws, The Stronger the Drugs

Washington, D.C. -- Today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project, which revealed levels of THC - the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana - have reached the highest-ever levels since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970s. According to the latest data on marijuana samples analyzed to date, the average amount of THC in seized samples has reached a new high of 10.1%. This compares to an average of just under 4% reported in 1983 and represents more than a doubling in the potency of the drug since that time.

According to data from the White House (
here and here), the graph below shows that the purity of powder cocaine more than doubled between the early 1980s and the 1990s and after.

MP: As a general economics principle, I think it would be safe to say that the stronger the drug laws, and the stronger the enforcement of drug laws, the stronger the drugs.

Exhibit A: The original drug of choice made from poppies in the 1800s was opium, but after it became illegal, the market for heroin was born, which is made from opium/morphine.

Exhibit B: During prohibition in the U.S. during the 1930s, most illegal "moonshine" was the strongest possible alcohol like "bathtub gin," etc. Nobody bothered making illegal beer or wine, everybody wanted the strongest, purest alcohol possible.

Exhibit C: Going from powder cocaine to crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s, to get more "bang for the buck."

Top graph HT: Pete Boettke


At 5/17/2009 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

During prohibition in the U.S. during the 1930s, most illegal "moonshine" was the strongest possible alcohol like "bathtub gin," etc. Nobody bothered making illegal beer or wine, everybody wanted the strongest, purest alcohol possible.I'm pretty sure the Kennedys made their money smuggling the real stuff from Canada. They brought it down Lake Memphremagog.

At 5/17/2009 5:58 PM, Blogger Hot Sam said...

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At 5/17/2009 11:03 PM, Anonymous Cheech (in) Marin said...


I'm all for legalization and taxation of marijuana which is the #1 cash crop in my state (CA). We sure need the tax revenue. LOL.

Some of your exhibits are lacking in evidence though. I learned during a winery tour in Sonoma that Congress gave an exception for making sacramental wine and sales of this wine skyrocketed during Prohibition. This kept lots of local wineries in business. Wineries also made jams and jellies which could easily be fermented into wine.

Homemade wines and ciders were also legal under that Act. Many people brewed their own beer at home. Your statement that "nobody bothered to make beer or wine" isn't true. That dilutes your argument, pun intended. :)

Canadian Whiskey illegally imported into Chicago by Al Capone wasn't moonshine. I doubt Canada made their whiskey any stronger after Prohibition than before.

I think Mr. Miller is right about crack. People used to blow themselves up with ether to make freebase. Remember when Richard Pryor set himself on fire? When people skipped the ether they stumbled upon crack. It became commercially more successful than powder cocaine and freebase because of its safety, potency, cheapness and ability to cook it back to purer form using only water. It didn't become popular *because* cocaine was made illegal.

Opium was first banned in San Francisco in 1875 because of Chinese Opium Dens. The federal government was not empowered by the Constitution to ban opium, but it increased taxes on it in 1909. Morphine was invented in 1817 and didn't replace opium even though it was more potent and safer than raw opium.

Heroin was invented by a British chemist in 1874 and he never exploited it. It was reinvented around 1900 by a German chemist and was marketed by the Bayer Corporation as a cough medicine and ironically a cure for morphine addiction. They lost their patents in the Treaty of Versailles and medicinal and recreational use spread to other countries.

Heroin and other opioids were controlled at the same time by the Harrison Act in 1914 but not banned in the US until 1924. So your description of heroin arising because of the prohibition of opium is not supported by historical facts either.

I think your Exhibits rely on the potency of drugs increasing *because* of prohibition. It doesn't seem to be the case. The pure and potent stuff is more compact for transport and is buffed with baking soda later. I think advances in technology made the drugs more potent, not prohibition.

The data from the White House is really interesting. They would know since they have an admitted and unrepentant coke user as president. LOL.

At 5/18/2009 1:07 AM, Blogger Plamen said...

Robert Miller, I posit that your info about "all drugs are 'cut' or diluted before sale to increase profits" is wrong... Maybe most, but not all - surely does not work very well for marijuana or 'shrooms. The market is segmented. Some drugs are more susceptible to visual/tactile/olfactory inspection, and some dealers work with only a narrow circle of trusted customers who would not do repeat business if the goods are sub-par.

At 5/18/2009 3:35 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Pot shouldn't be legalized, because second hand smoke is a negative externality (except, perhaps, for families living in "ivory towers").

Also, similar to tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc., none of the "sin taxes" will be used for rehabilitation. An effective policy is the Japanese example:

"The Japanese in 1954...inaugurated a system of forced hospitalization for chronic drug users. Under this policy, drug users were rounded up in droves, forced to go through cold-turkey withdrawal and placed in work camps for periods ranging from a few months to several years...This approach to drug users, still in force today, is seen by the Japanese as a humane policy focussed primarily on rehabilitation. By American standards, however, these rehabilitation programs would be seen as very tough.

The Japanese from the very beginning have opted for a cold-turkey drug withdrawal. Thus, every heroin addict identified in Japan is required to enter a hospital or treatment facility, where they go immediately through withdrawal. Conviction through the criminal justice system is not necessary for commitment. Any addict identified, either through examination by physicians or through urine testing, is committed through an administrative process. As a result courts are not burdened with heavy caseloads of drug users, drug users are not saddled with criminal records and punishment for drug users is swift and sure.

The government also launched a substantial public education campaign, including distributing anti-drug messages through government-controlled television movies, radio, newspapers, magazines and books, and posters in airports, railroad stations, bus terminals, and public buildings. Cabinet ministers, governors, mayors and other public officials regularly conducted public forums on the perils of drug use.

These policies dramatically and rapidly cut drug use. Within four years of the 1954 amendments, the number of people arrested for violating the Stimulant Control Law dropped from 55,654 to only 271in 1958.

Japan began experiencing serious problems with heroin. By 1961 it is estimated that there were over 40,000 heroin addicts in Japan...tougher penalties against importation and selling, and by imposing a mandatory rehabilitation regime for addicts.

The results of Japan's tough heroin program mirrored those of its successful fight against stimulants. The number of arrests for heroin sale and possession fell from a high in 1962 of 2,139 to only 33 in 1966 and have never risen above 100 since."

Article above from September 24, 1990 Fighting Drugs in Four Countries: Lessons for America?

At 5/18/2009 9:11 AM, Anonymous Dennis said...

For all the pot legalization advocates out there: Isn't manipulating the potency why the cigarette companies were set up for robbery by the various governments? One wonders if there is a double standard or some kind of hypocrisy afoot here.

At 5/18/2009 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Average marijuana potency likely increased because of two main factors: possibly the gradual switch from seeded bud to seedless (sinsemilla), which meant more drug per sample (depending on how measured), and more importantly, the advent of marijuana breeders, breeder's cups, and marijuana seed sales. These factors turned the corner in the early 80s, similar to the data on the chart. Seed sales were a direct product of the decriminalization of cannabis in the Netherlands, as opposed to prohibition. Seeds are now sold around the world in a variety of countries.

Higher potencies, for most people, mean they use less. And similar to tobacco, you don't have to legalize smoking in public.

The basic premise of the post is logical, i.e. traffickers want to concentrate their product for transport. And I'm sure that is indeed one effect at play.

But on another point, in terms of measuring the success of prohibition and enforcement, the retail product for "cuttable" hard drugs should be decreasing in quality. However, my understanding is that is not the case. Last I heard, cocaine is cheaper and more potent than ever before (markets in everything, right?). That means large supplies are at play, and enforcement is simply not keeping up.

On a related note, check out the success of Portugal's across-the-board decriminalization, they've got 8 years under their belts now, with great results.

At 5/18/2009 12:39 PM, Blogger Mute Dog said...

Actually home brewed beer was made illegal during prohibition (under a separate law) and that law was not removed until the 1970's during one of Carter's better moments.

At 5/18/2009 3:58 PM, Blogger Hot Sam said...

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At 6/22/2009 2:06 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Heh, and Rep. Kirk wants radically stronger enforcement!


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