Sunday, March 08, 2009

Social Science + Common Sense = Legalize Drugs

Yes, folks - you can think of The War On Drugs as lives and money going up in smoke - lives and money that could be doing something useful. That's one hell of a stupidity tax.

There are a great many reasons to object to current drug laws, both from an inherent, civil libertarian point of view and for their unintended consequences. Some of these objections are ideological and conjectural - but there is nothing more concrete than the increased risk of being caught in gangland crossfire, and the reality that legalization will take that kind of player out of the game.

CN ON: Column: How to Get Me to Shut Up About Drugs:

If prohibition is causing violence, countries that are less strict in enforcing the law should see less violence, while those that take a harder law should see more. Changes in law enforcement over time should be correlated with violence as well.

And that's just what Miron and two colleagues found in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Examining data spanning countries and decades, Miron and his colleagues found things like arrest rates, capital punishment and gun laws didn't explain the numbers. But "the hypothesis that drug prohibition generates violence," they concluded, "is generally consistent with the long time-series and cross-country facts."

Miron's conclusion is sobering: If governments respond to gang violence with tougher laws and crackdowns, they will ultimately produce more violence.

Among western nations, none has fought the drug trade harder than the United States. And none has a murder rate close to that of the U.S. Miron thinks that's not a coincidence. "I have one set of estimates that maybe 50 per cent of homicides in the U.S. are due to the prohibition of drugs."

The best way to make a significant and lasting reduction in gang violence, Miron contends, is to remove drugs from the black market. They can be strictly regulated using any of a hundred different policy models. But they must be legalized.

Of course, the police scoff at this. Legalization wouldn't hurt organized crime, they say. Gangsters would just move on to some other lucrative enterprise.

But this assumes there are lucrative enterprises available to organized crime that gangsters are not now exploiting -- in defiance of economic theory and common sense.

It's also contrary to historical experience. "We definitely see crime fall when we make things legal," Miron says. "

Now, add into the mix all the economic benefits that we abandon due to the most direct consequences of drug policy - the loss of an entire, green, sustainable and very important agricultural sector, in favor of petroleum based alternatives. There are very few crops out there that have as many uses per plant. Canada's relatively sane approach to exploring hemp production for fiber, oils and other uses promises to grow into a huge new economic sector in a relatively short period. It's fairly obvious that there is significant potential for an entire range of pharmaceutical applications.

Combine the dramatic cost savings with the potential and proven economic benefits and it's easy to see how we can afford to deal rationally with the people who's drug abuse IS a problem for them and those around them. And perhaps we can then also talk rationally about what drug abuse is, why it happens, and what makes the most sense, generally and individually.

One of the most critical undiscussed topics in that range is why people think using is better than not using. Usually this relates to either an inherent mental health issue - and making crazy illegal is obviously silly - or to social stresses that we might well be able to do something about if we were to speak openly about it.

One more reason to loudly ignore people who predict the immenent collapse of Society As They Wish It Was if we "permit" people to use the drugs they will use in any case. Because, well, that is the problem. Not pot. Not even heroin. It's busybodies and bad social policy. We can afford neither in our rapidly changing world.

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