Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drug Decriminalization: Latin America Leads Way

Latin American frustration with the “war on drugs” is growing. Harsh anti-drug laws have failed to stem apparently rising drug use, and incarceration rates are climbing—up 40% on average in Mexico and South America over the last decade—with more drug users and low-level dealers behind bars. But high-level drug traffickers carry on with impunity.

Increasingly, many countries are leaning toward decriminalization as an alternative approach, hoping that it will be effective both in reducing consumption and dealing with associated health problems. This approach treats drug abuse as a public health and social policy issue rather than as a criminal justice problem. The goal is to encourage addicts to seek help, reduce prison overcrowding and free law enforcement to focus on dismantling drug-trafficking organizations.

Read more here about how Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have all taken steps towards various forms of drug decriminalization.

Here's a related Washington Post front page article "U.S. eases stance on medical marijuana."


At 10/22/2009 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like markets work.

At 10/22/2009 8:54 PM, Anonymous American Delight said...

Unfortunately, you may be right that the United States will follow Latin America's lead.

After all, we're already starting to emulate Latin America's history of heavy-handed executive leadership by yielding ever-increasing power & authority to our own presidents...

At 10/22/2009 11:00 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

I don't smoke pot--although the usual description of a US libertarian is a "Republican who wants to smoke pot."
Here in L.A., there are pot stores opening up, and they sell pot under the ruse that it is medicine (which it may be for some).
Why can't we sell pot through liquor stores, with a "pot sticker"--a $10 stamp.
Revenues for the state, more personal freedom.
Actually, I think the government should grow pot, encourage it's use, and collect all the revenues, while cutting taxes on productive productive enterprises. Maybe cocaine too.
In Afghanistan, the government and elites proper on opium revenues, and spend hundreds of billions proppping up that system.
I never thought I would see the day the US government enabled heroin use, but here we are. Just wish we made money from it, rather than spent so much to get that result.

At 10/22/2009 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we legalize we could then earmark some of the revenues for drug treatment programs. Since driving under the influence of drugs is already illegal that is already taken care of and for work place safety drugs could be treated like alcohol.
As Thoreau said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation...what is called resignation is confirmed desperation. As a result people have always sought a way out with Booze and in the 19th century before they were made illegal with Cocaine Heroin and the like.
If one accepts Thoreau then legalizing drugs will help many people handle the desperation better.

At 10/22/2009 11:14 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I wonder if the legalizers ever consider the effects of legalization on overall drug use and the attendant societal dysfunction which would result from a potential increase in drug use due to its abundance and ease of purchase?

At 10/22/2009 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the arguement about societal dysfunction applies equally well to alcohol and was in fact on of the major arguments for prohibition (father drunk at saloon and family starving...). Ultimately society saw that prohibition lead to great gains for criminals (think Capone). It proved impossible to control booze, and we should look at this experience and use it to think about drugs.

At 10/23/2009 12:34 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Gambling became legal in 1931. I wonder if it remained illegal, would there be more or less gambling today? (I doubt Las Vegas would be the same).

Also, if there wasn't a minimum wage, labor standards, or a government safety net, would the U.S. be more like China, where many workers have to work for $0.25 an hour, to survive, while profits rise much more than wages, which keeps consumption low.

At 10/23/2009 12:50 AM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

This just shows how bad legitimate business is in the third world. Excessive collateral requirements, heavy bureaucracy, and corruption. Legal or illegal, drugs are the only way to a life.

The link has some optimistic figures(more like 4x), compare Haiti and Dominican Republic.

At 10/23/2009 8:22 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...


there is no increase in drug use from decriminalization. this has been shown in holland, spain, portugal, and other places.

further, full legalization would likely keep drugs away from children. don't know about you, but when i was 16, it was hard to buy beer, but easy to buy pretty much any illegal drug.

this "reefer madness" notion that iof we legalize drugs we'll become a nation of dope fiends lacks any compelling evidence. it's just fear mongering.

would you really start shooting heroin just because it was legal?

At 10/23/2009 9:08 AM, Blogger QT said...

Aren't we also fighting the law of supply & demand? Any dent one makes upon supply merely serves to drive up price creating greater rewards for criminals.

Unfortunately, this industry:

1. pays no excise taxes
2. pays no income taxes
3. is not liable for the safety or health effects of its product
4. has no quality standards to assure any level of consumer protection

Even the Chinese get rightly nailed for melamine in pet food or lead in children's toys while organized crime gets a free pass go.

The latest scam is using
the right to freedom from unreasonable search to get drug charges dropped. The fourth Amendment in the U.S. provides for the same right as the Canadian charter. Another case in our local community where charter rights were used to exclude evidence.

Why shouldn't the manufacturers/distributors of these products be subject to full consumer protection laws, be taxed into the ground, be held liable for the health consequences associated with their products and discover the joys of U.S. tort and IRS audits?

Jail time does not adequately account for the full social costs associated with these products.

At 10/23/2009 9:21 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

When smoking became more socially unacceptable, the number of smokers decline. More people use legal drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, than illegal drugs.

From article: "Drug Legalization: Myths vs. Reality"

About 110 million Americans use alcohol; about 60 million smoke; by contrast, 14 million use drugs. Illegal drugs, however, are much more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. While 10 percent of alcohol users consume to excess, 50 percent of marijuana users suffer from excessive use of the drug, as do 90 percent of cocaine users, and 95 percent of those using opiates.

Drug use is not victimless. Not only do individuals commit crimes under drug influence, but drug users are involved in 10 percent to 15 percent of highway fatalities, are two to three times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents (injuring others as well as themselves), and give birth to 100,000 cocaine addicted infants each year.

If drug legalization works at all, it works by lowering prices - "taking the profit out of drugs" as proponents of legalization put it. Lowering the price, however, surely would lead to increased demand. After prohibition, alcohol consumption increased 50 percent. In Britain, where addicts get heroin from the government, the number of "registered" addicts has risen from 2,800 in 1980 to 80,000 today. Thus, both economic theory and actual experience strongly suggest drug legalization would increase drug use.

Drugs have not always been part of American society. Most Americans today can remember a time when drugs were not in the workplace or discussed casually on television, and when schools were free of drugs. The explosion of drug use during the 1960s and 1970s was the result of a misguided acceptance of drugs and the defacto legalization policies of the time.

It is possible to make America drug-free'. Drug use already has fallen by more than a third since 1985. Drug use among 18- to 25-year-olds is down 53 percent for marijuana and 52 percent for cocaine since 1977. This is hardly the time to run up the white flag.

At 10/23/2009 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would assume there is a higher percentage of drug addicts falling into the uneducated low income bracket. This group of people also commits more crimes. I guess the question to ask is if drugs use is by itself is the reason these people commit crimes.

I 100% support legalization of marijuana. It is a drug that is comparable to alcohol, and can arguably be considered safer as there have never been any recorded deaths due to marijuana overdose.

I'm not sure how legalizing elicit drugs would affect the US. There are a lot of third party implications to consider, but I highly doubt its going to turn all of us into addicts. I have no problem if people choose to pollute their bodies in their own homes where the rest of the population is not affected. Does drug use create criminals, or do more criminals just use drugs? I can speculate, but I have no data to back it up.

I'm certain marijuana will become legal in my lifetime, and I look forward to it. I can't stand seeing "your typical" drug dealer getting rich off of a black market product that has no business being sold illegally.

At 10/23/2009 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

President Bush, and now Obama, set up and support an Narco-State in Afghanistan. Opium is king, and we have spent hundreds of billion of dollars to obtain this result. We are enabling heroin use anyway,--in fact, spending huge gobs of taxpayer dollars to do it.
And we say you can't smoke pot in your home in the USA?

At 10/23/2009 11:40 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Negative externalities, including unintended consequences, should be considered. It's important to think about other people, including children.

At 10/23/2009 2:17 PM, Blogger SBVOR said...

Dr. Perry,

Is there any better way to maximize gangster profits, gangster incentives and gangster violence than to decriminalize consumption while leaving production and distribution illegal?

In these respects, this is the WORST of all options!

From a Libertarian POV although individuals will become more free to destroy themselves, on balance this will only FURTHER expand the scope and scale of government as the gangster profits, gangster incentives and gangster violence soars.

At 10/23/2009 2:58 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Ah so this could be part of the "If you tax something you get less of it" series :-)

And yeah I agree Peak Trader, we need to worry about the children which is exactly why we need to decriminalize drugs and put more gangsters out of the job.

At 10/23/2009 4:26 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

ExtremeHobo, it looks like legalizing gambling, and taxing it, caused an explosion in gambling. Also, gangsters were involved in gambling even after it was legalized.

At 10/23/2009 4:32 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Gangsters are no longer in Vegas. Keep in mind that no change is ever instant. Legalizing gambling didn't flick some switch that changed everything in a second, its gradual.

Also comparing Gambling to Drugs is comparing completely different things. Gambling has to take place in a set location (or now virtual) while drugs people do in their homes.

At 10/23/2009 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite the criminal and economic ramifications, why should anyone tell an adult human what he can or cannot ingest into his body?
On the economic front, the war on drugs is lost; tax it, quality control it, and govt, get out of our lives!

At 10/24/2009 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SBVOR's point is correct, and extremely important.

Decriminalization of use is not enough. In order to end the violence and death inherent in the drug trade, governments must legalize sale and distribution.


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