Sunday, October 25, 2009

Legalize It, Part II

In America, 37% of adults have tried marijuana; in the Netherlands the figure is 17%. Heroin usage rates are three times higher in the United States than in the Netherlands. Crystal meth, so destructive here, is almost nonexistent there. By any standard -- drug usage rates, addiction, homicides, incarceration and dollars spent -- America has lost the war on drugs.

And just as escalating the drug war over the past three decades hasn't caused a decrease in supply and demand, there's no good reason to believe that regulating drugs instead of outlawing them would cause an increase. If it did, why are drug usage rates in the Netherlands lower? People start and stop taking drugs for many different reasons, but the law seems to be pretty low on the list. Ask yourself: Would you shoot up tomorrow if heroin were legal?

From today's Washington Post, by Peter Moskos, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College and the author of "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District." He is a former Baltimore City police officer.


At 10/25/2009 4:09 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

"In America, 37% of adults have tried marijuana; in the Netherlands the figure is 17%."

I wonder what percentage of marijuana users are in California and what percentage are in Texas? Drug use is lower in Nordic countries. Obviously, there are other factors, because Sweden's tough drug laws coincide with low drug use.

Wikipedia: Drug Policy:

Sweden's drug policy has gradually turned from lenient in the 1960s with a emphasis on drug supply towards a policy of zero tolerance against all illicit drug use (including cannabis)...The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Sweden has one of the lowest drug usage rates in the Western world.

At 10/25/2009 4:30 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Here's what the CIA Fact Book says about the Netherlands:

"Major European producer of synthetic drugs, including ecstasy, and cannabis cultivator; important gateway for cocaine, heroin, and hashish entering Europe; major source of US-bound ecstasy; large financial sector vulnerable to money laundering; significant consumer of ecstasy."

It seems, Sweden (or none of the Nordic countries) isn't on the CIA's illicit drugs radar screen.

At 10/25/2009 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the experience with prohibition in the 1920's can be used to illustrate the point. It lead to rampant crime and lawlessness, and was not successful. Given that the drug bans are from the same era and for essentially the same reasons to protect persons from themselves (and to some extent protect families). The logic of repeal and taxing make sense.
The fundamental problem is well characterized by Emerson in "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" to hide from this desperation the use chemicals. If we are concerned about treatment some of the taxes raised can be used to pay for treatment.
One needs to ask what motivates people to use drugs? As in the quote from the Washington Post to use heroin one would have to be quite desperate about life. However marijuana is a different story as it is apparently no worse than booze.

At 10/25/2009 4:45 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

I cannot fathom right-wingers who say that if I grow marijuana on my own property and smoke it, then I can go to jail. Is this not the very picture of over-reaching state intrusion into my life?
As a practical matter, as a libertarian right-winger, I favor legalized drugs, sold through federally owned retailers, the profits going to pay down the federal debt. But certainly people should be allowed to grow their own marijuana, to smoke in private.
Legalize gambling, drugs, prostitution, and tax it to bring down the debt.
Also, wipe out federal subsidies of any kind (including to rural areas) and cut back our military. We might just save America from bankruptcy and Banana-dom.

At 10/25/2009 5:04 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Anon, you seem to contradict yourself about helping people with their addictions and spreading addictions. Also, I'm sure making crime legal leads to less crime. I stated before:

When smoking became more socially unacceptable, the number of smokers declined.

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 10/25/2009 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

America has lost the war on drugs ...

What war? What the usage rates in Singapore?

At 10/25/2009 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is all the evidence one needs to show that smoking dope causes serious mental impairment.

At 10/25/2009 5:22 PM, Blogger Bret said...

I'm somewhat surprised an economist would excerpt an article that contains:

"...there's no good reason to believe that regulating drugs instead of outlawing them would cause an increase."

It seems that the price would drop (and/or there would be a sizeable black market) which would generally increase demand.

At 10/25/2009 6:25 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

A couple points:

1. The stronger the drug laws, the stronger the drugs, which is why we have heroin instead of opium or morphine, crack cocaine instead of powdered cocaine, and meth. During Prohibition, there was the same tendency towards the strongest, most potent forms of alcohol: “bathtub gin” and vodka instead of wine and beer. That is one of the costs of the “War on Drugs” – much stronger, more potent, more addictive and more dangerous drugs compared to the milder, weaker drugs that would exist if drugs were legal or decriminalized.

2. We can’t keep drugs out of a federal prison, with all of the controls in place there: regular body searches, regular cell searches, controlled access, etc., so we’ll never keep drugs out of a country like the U.S. with open borders. Given the fact that we WILL have drugs in the country, then the only real options are between a “War on Drugs” approach and something in the direction of legalization or decriminalization.

3. As the author of the article points out, drug addicts are generally not really dangerous, violent or criminal when they have drugs (e.g. think of a heroin addict high on heroin in a “drug stupor”), they are only dangerous, violent and/or criminal when they do NOT have drugs, and they have to engage in theft and robbery to pay for the illegal drugs. If alcohol were illegal and expensive, alcoholics would be robbing and stealing to get money for alcohol and behaving in exactly the same way that their illegal cousins, the heroin addicts, currently behave.

4. Illegal drugs are actually often more accessible for young people than legal drugs like alcohol. My own experience in high school was that illegal drugs like marijuana and LSD were actually more accessible to 16-year olds (being sold right at the school) than alcohol (often required a major effort getting somebody’s older brother or somebody with a fake ID to make the purchase). That’s another cost of the War on Drugs – it actually makes illegal drugs MORE available to underage minors, not less. With legalization and regulation would come age limits and other controls that would make drugs less available to minors.

At 10/25/2009 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stronger the drug laws, the stronger the drugs ...

I think that should be the stronger the drugs, the stronger the drug laws. Laws against crack cocaine were enacted in response to the increase in violence associated with its use, not the other way around.

The criminality associated with drugs is not likely to disappear should drugs become legal. The guys currently dealing drugs are not out of work computer programmers, they're criminals and they would simply shift to something else leading to increased crime. In response we would pass stronger laws and you, no doubt, would say maybe that activity should be legal, too.

You seem to be forgetting that many of these substances - cocaine, heroin, etc. - were legal in the past with predictable results.

Our prisons are not full of casual drug users, they are full of drug dealers:

The rate of drug use among high-school seniors has been cut nearly in half since its peak years of 1978 and 1979, to 22.3% in 2008. Prevention and treatment have been producing steady results.

The criminal justice system has been transformed over the past 15 years. Adult and juvenile drug courts are now common in most states. Nationwide there are more than 2,000 drug courts pushing low-level offenders to get treatment when drug use brings them into the criminal justice system. Child welfare and family courts also push drug treatment -- many endangerment and neglect cases involve an adult with a substance abuse problem. The criminal justice system has become the most powerful force in the country supporting addiction treatment, exactly the opposite of the critics' depiction.


As for those who attack "right-wingers" for not wanting to legalize drugs, here's a little thought experiment; imagine US based corporations legally producing addictive drugs and exporting them to countries in Africa or Central and South America. How long do you think it would take before the "left-wingers" started screaming "exploitation"? I give it a couple of minutes.

At 10/25/2009 7:16 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

"1. The stronger the drug laws, the stronger the drugs..."

Department of Justice "Fact 9: Europe’s More Liberal Drug Policies Are Not the Right Model for America."

"The head of Holland’s best-known drug abuse rehabilitation center has described what the new drug culture has created: The strong form of marijuana that most of the young people smoke, he says, produces “a chronically passive individual—someone who is lazy, who doesn’t want to take initiatives, doesn’t want to be active—the kid who’d prefer to lie in bed with a joint in the morning rather than getting up and doing something.”

At 10/25/2009 7:17 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

I tend to disagree with the liberal ideal presented here. Like gambling, allowing legal addition to anything is damaging to a society.

At 10/25/2009 11:12 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Individuals have the right to damage themselves, through excessive drinking, smoking and drug use. Eating too, I suppose.
I hope that everybody tries to accomplish more with their life--but hey, it is up to the individual, not to me or society.
Recreational drug use has been a part of human society since we had societies. Did you know the word "beer" comes from the word "imbibe."
Far, far better we harness human "vices" for the good of society through taxation, than futilely spending money to combat such "vices."
I always say it is a bad idea to tax productive behavior, such as working and investing, and a good idea to tax vices, conspicuous consumption, and pollution.
Property taxes? Not sure yet.

At 10/26/2009 8:25 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Oh Peak Trader, your last post is as Michael Jackson would say "Ignorant."

Can you honestly not make the same argument that people who dont exercise have the same problems. Or those that watch reality TV have the same problems?

How many of our recent presidents have smoked pot? Look that up buddy. Last time I checked there is no position on Earth that takes more ambition than being the U.S. President.

At 10/26/2009 10:04 AM, Blogger QT said...


There have been excellent arguments on both sides of this question. Insults, however, aren't really called for.

Peak's point concerned high strength marijuana which wouldn't have been available in the youths of current & former presidents of the U.S. If you disagree with the assessment, by all means, present opposing data.

I have to agree that it seems difficult to believe that high strength marijuana is the modern equivalent to the opium dens of the 19th century.

At 10/26/2009 10:55 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Legalize It, eh?

Hmmm, in the 'for what its worth' column consider the following from NIDA: Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society. Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually...

Again this is a federal government source, the NIH so it may be factual or it may be propaganda...

At 10/26/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Sorry if my post sounded harsher than it should have but it was in reference to the running South Park joke.

The point that I was attempting to make was two pronged. There are many things in the world that make people lazy, and outlawing them all would put us in quite a perdicament.

And the second point was attempting to debunk the lazy argument anyways showing three prominent people who smoked pot at one time or another (our three most recent presidents). Arguably there are plenty of examples of people who ARE lazy that smoke pot but obviously its not some sentence of death to your impact on society.

At 10/26/2009 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course a lot of the drug related crime is either in the distribution system (dealer on dealer) or to get the money to buy drugs. If drugs were legalized one would end a good bit of the distribution system crime (as happened after Prohibition was repealed). Secondly likely the price of drugs would come down and so the need for crime to pay for drugs would decrease.

At 10/26/2009 4:02 PM, Anonymous feeblemind said...

One wonders how the differences in demographics between the USA and Netherlands affects the percentages of drug use?

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


Don't watch South Park so I'm afraid the joke went over my head. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

There is considerable debate on the effects of stronger marijuana. As with many public policy debates, each side has strong biases. Love to find a well-designed clinical study on this topic.

Agree that "laziness" tends to be pretty common phenom with or without marijuana. There are, of course, other health concerns like loss of sex drive, memory loss, respiratory problems, distorted thinking, and permanent alterations to the brain associated with marijuana and other addictive substances. Found this a particularly interesting passage:

Because of the lower blood pressure and higher heart rate, researchers found that users' risk for a heart attack is four times higher within the first hour after smoking marijuana.

At 10/26/2009 4:32 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

but once again QT, even if Pot has nothing but bad effects on its user, does it even matter?

There are countless legal things that have negative effects on their users.

Saturated fat isn't good for you, but I pray we don't outlaw steaks.

Unprotected sex makes babies and spreads disease, but should we make it illegal?

Shaking hands is spreading H1N1. Should it be banned as well?

If someone smoking pot commits a crime against anyone else, go ahead and charge them, as you would anyone who commits a crime. But dont charge them just because your worried they MIGHT commit a crime under its influence.

Also this whole "cost to society" is the slipperiest slope you can ever encounter. Are we to eliminate geriatrics as they also become a burden to society? I would hope not!

At 10/26/2009 7:04 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

ExtremeHobo, I didn't know "the head of Holland’s best-known drug abuse rehabilitation center" is "ignorant" about his drug users. Also, there's a difference between being addicted to drugs and trying drugs.

Moreover, I disagree we need more obese people, more babies, more disease, and more drug users, in general. Shouldn't the government spend money on drug prevention and rehabilitation, rather than fuel crime, drug consumption, and drug production?

At 10/27/2009 2:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark is the only one to use the word "decriminalize". If you make having a joint legal, that doesn't mean that they have to be sold at every cornerstone. Instead of the war on drugs, for just a fraction of the money, we could treat those in need. Libertarians call it reality. Keep in mind there has never been a drug free country and most mammals look to self medicate.

This is not going to happen though. The "war on drugs" is now little more than a way for government to take even more private property. And to keep cops on the job and favored contractors building more jails.

At 10/27/2009 9:02 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

" Shouldn't the government spend money on drug prevention and rehabilitation..."

I don't personally believe so. If you want to donate money then go ahead but I don't see why I should be forced to through increases in taxes and national/state debt.

There are plenty of non-profits like this one that are taking donations. Its even tax deductible.


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