War on drugs at the WSJ

We believe that drug addiction is harmful to individuals, impairs health and has adverse societal effects. So we want an effective program to deal with this problem.

The question is: What is the best way to go about it? For 40 years now, our nation’s approach has been to criminalize the entire process of producing, transporting, selling and using drugs, with the exception of tobacco and alcohol. Our judgment, shared by other members of the commission, is that this approach has not worked, just as our national experiment with the prohibition of alcohol failed. Drugs are still readily available, and crime rates remain high. But drug use in the U.S. is no lower than, and sometimes surpasses, drug use in countries with very different approaches to the problem.

We do not support the simple legalization of all drugs. What we do advocate is an open and honest debate on the subject. We want to find our way to a less costly and more effective method of discouraging drug use, cutting down the power of organized crime, providing better treatment and minimizing negative societal effects.

George Shultz and Paul Volcker

I think an open and honest debate is a good place to start. At the end of the day I’m not convinced that harm minimisation (at most margins) can be achieved while drugs are illegal. The war on tobacco has largely been won while the product has remained legal.
Update: Milton Friedman on this point here.

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43 Responses to War on drugs at the WSJ

  1. rodney

    The effect on Mexico is particularly evil.

  2. We are not at the start and it’s a bit limp to just talk about having a debate. There is a ton of evidence showing prohibition is ineffective and the adverse aspects of drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana are overstated.

    If it wasn’t for the risk to children, I’d favour complete deregulation. There’d be casualties, but not as many as there are now.

  3. TerjeP

    Advocates of marijuana legalisation have long pointed to the hypocrisy of having marijuana illegal whilst having tobacco legal. However it seems that at least in Australia the more this hypocrisy is examined by policy makers the more draconian the tobacco laws become. It seems the comparisons work against liberalism. And where drug users were once regarded as people without sufficient morality they now get regarded as victims. Personal responsibility is a concept that now lacks currency.

  4. TerjeP

    If it wasn’t for the risk to children, I’d favour complete deregulation. There’d be casualties, but not as many as there are now.

    I don’t favour complete deregulation. I don’t want street vendors selling heroin outside schools as if it was hot dogs. For now we should just sell it from behind the counter at the chemist.

  5. .

    Why even buy “drugs”?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dextromethorphan#Recreational_use

    We can get something over the counter like PCP, LSD and MDMA but we need to have a paramilitary war against Mexicans and poor people who can’t get a regular job.

    Oh, the stupidity.

  6. coz

    You’d have to use workplace drug testing if you decriminalise all drug use. I once had the unpleasure of working with a steroid user.

  7. daddy dave

    And where drug users were once regarded as people without sufficient morality they now get regarded as victims. Personal responsibility is a concept that now lacks currency.

    yep, drug users are victims. Hence the demonisation of drug dealers, known to moralists as “pushers” (because we all know they “push” drugs onto naive, unsuspecting youth, often in their sleep). I’m not in favour of complete legalisation either, but then again, we don’t have complete legalisation of alcohol.

    There are restrictions on who can sell it, when and where they can sell it, who can buy it, where they can consume it, and even, increasingly, how much they can consume.

    So we have a model for regulating dangerous, addictive drugs. It’s in place right now with alcohol and cigarettes. We just use that model, tweak and adjust it in ways that seem appropriate depending on the drug, and apply it more widely.

  8. Adrian

    decriminalising drugs would be a boon for big government:

    1. tax and price enforcement,
    2. quality enforcement,
    3. manufacturer, buyer and seller registration,
    4. customs enforcement,

    …etc…it is not as if law enforcement would go away. The authorities would just end up enforcing different and new laws with new agencies and funding.

    the adverse aspects of drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana are overstated.

    really? according to who?

    I don’t want street vendors selling heroin outside schools as if it was hot dogs. For now we should just sell it from behind the counter at the chemist.

    just like cough medicine…i can just picture it. a local junkie goes into his local chemist to pick up a few things: foot cream, panadol, those jelly beams they sell at the counter and a bit of take-away herion. that’d go down well with the pharmacy guild. imagine then if coles/woolworths were ever able to get in on the trade?!?!? charming.

  9. daddy dave

    decriminalising drugs would be a boon for big government:

    By that logic, making alcohol illegal would be a blow against big government.

    The authorities would just end up enforcing different and new laws with new agencies and funding.

    Just because both scenarios involve “laws” doesn’t make them equivalent.

    just like cough medicine

    yeah, that’s exactly what it would be like.

  10. “The war on tobacco has largely being [sic] won”

    Would I be considered out of line to point out that Catxy has without exception opposed every element of that war — most recently, the blank packaging legislation — on the grounds of nanny state interference with private property? The last reference, for example, was “the war on tobacco is reaching the stage of pure vindictiveness”. Or

    Already tobacco tax is probably close to the peak of the Laffer curve. And smokers are ostracised in many places. But there is always more that the Government can do to eliminate smoking.

    And once it has won the war on smoking, there are lots of other wars it can fight against those who are not living the healthy life.

    That is the vision: a thin, sober, non-smoking, exercising, vegetarian. The future of Australia.

    Saying that drug use should be permitted and that the ill effects could be contained if the government introduced a level of control comparable to tobacco control is an argument open to me, as a a liberal interventionist, but not, surely, to a movement that objects on principle to tobacco control.

    [fixed – Sinc]

  11. thefrollickingmole

    Ive brought morphine as part of my old medic job. Rediculously cheap drug at about $1.50 per ampoule.
    I know of a number of drug dealers in my town whod pay $50.00 for one.

    I think a staggered pharmacy release of say a “big 3” drugs and the continued barring of most others might be politicaly acceptable.

    Say heroin, mull and some ecstacy type?

    But you cant underestimate peoples perchant for self destruction, there will still be people taking dirty “new” drugs as well.

  12. .

    i can just picture it. a local junkie goes into his local chemist to pick up a few things: foot cream, panadol, those jelly beams they sell at the counter and a bit of take-away herion. that’d go down well with the pharmacy guild.

    Heroin was once an ingredient in cough syrup as it is a treatment for edemas. An irrational fear of illicit drugs ends up denying the best possible care for the sick.

  13. Adrian

    anyone that pretends herion is just like cough medicine, beer or tobacco is either incredibly ill-informed or one-eyed. herion has an addictive power that well surpases any of those substances.

  14. JC

    Adrian

    Botox is a lethal poison. Sheilas use it on their face. What exactly is your point?

  15. daddy dave

    herion has an addictive power that well surpases any of those substances.

    I agree, and honestly, I also baulk at the idea of legalised heroin. However, we can kick that can way down the road for now. There’s plenty of obvious reform to get done with other substances before we have to face that choice. Start with regulated legalisation of pot and ecstasy.

  16. Infidel Tiger

    The WA government just criminalised synthetic marijuana.

  17. coz

    Well you can grow your own real Marijuana there.

  18. twostix

    Botox is a lethal poison. Sheilas use it on their face. What exactly is your point?

    That’s a pretty odd point. Injecting botox into your faces doesn’t alter the state of your mind. It’s quite illegal to inject it into your veins. Heroin is equally as destructive over the long term.

    Start with regulated legalisation of pot and ecstasy.

    Why ecstasy? It’s not rainbows and lollypops as some like to portray it as.

    I notice that it’s only the middle class / uni student drugs that are to be “legalised” here. Not Ice? Not Speed?

  19. JC

    It’s not odd if you take Dot’s comment:

    Heroin was once an ingredient in cough syrup as it is a treatment for edemas. An irrational fear of illicit drugs ends up denying the best possible care for the sick.

    To Adrian’s comment.

    I notice that it’s only the middle class / uni student drugs that are to be “legalised” here. Not Ice? Not Speed?

    Decriminalize the entire freaking lot.

  20. Sinclair Davidson

    Would I be considered out of line to point out that Catxy has without exception opposed every element of that war — most recently, the blank packaging legislation — on the grounds of nanny state interference with private property?

    Yes – you would. I have no problems with educational programs and no problems with prohibition of the sale of tobacco to children. I have no problem with smokers paying higher health care insurance and so on. But yes, prohibitions on advertising and packaging are a violation of free speech.

  21. daddy dave

    This seems like policy low-hanging fruit. Yet even the greens – who I would have thought most likely to support legalisation – are in favour of the status quo. And in fact they’re as bad as anyone at demonising the “pushers” as the root of drug evil.

    Never occurs to them that people take drugs because they want to.

  22. It heroin is so brutally addictive, why did the number of users in NSW drop from 40,000 in 1999 to less than half that 2 years later after prices went up?

    Did 20,000 junkies:

    a). die
    b). give up
    c). switch to other drugs, like meth and coke

    A lot chose (C). Junkies aren’t addicted to smack – they’re addicted to getting off their face. In the 18th century, they’d have been filled to the gills with gin.

  23. C.L.

    I have no problems with educational programs…

    Sinclair. I’m disappointed. You support the state ‘educating’ people about what they choose to do? Children in schools, OK. But not the kind of ads on radio and television directed at adults, surely.

    Advocates of marijuana legalisation have long pointed to the hypocrisy of having marijuana illegal whilst having tobacco legal.

    Used to be true, certainly. I get the feeling now, though, that the weedsters are happy to fly under the radar and go on buying affordable gear on the moonshine market.

    I don’t favour complete deregulation. I don’t want street vendors selling heroin outside schools as if it was hot dogs.

    Terje channels this mafiosa. 🙂

    Originally, the Commission policy was to kill anyone selling drugs to children or near schools.

  24. C.L.

    Terje channels this mafiosa.

    From the 3:01 mark.

  25. Sinclair Davidson

    CL – there is nothing wrong with information and education programs. In primary school we actually had a subject called ‘hygiene’ and in high school we had a subject called biology. The effects of various chemical substances on the human body can and should be studied at school. It also doesn’t bother me when the cancer council runs ads saying smoking causes cancer, or the helth department run ads saying that motorcyclists should wear leathers and so on. Providing good advice isn’t coercive.

  26. FDB

    DD:

    So we have a model for regulating dangerous, addictive drugs. It’s in place right now with alcohol and cigarettes. We just use that model, tweak and adjust it in ways that seem appropriate depending on the drug, and apply it more widely.

    After all these years, and all these discussions, I have never heard anything even resembling a counter-argument to this, other than making alcohol and tobacco illegal. Which will simply never happen, at least in the case of alcohol.

    Anyone else heard one?

  27. JC

    FDB

    What are you saying that this is the first time you’ve ever heard someone suggest we ought to treat drugs like tobacco and booze? Seriously?

  28. C.L.

    Children in schools, OK. But not the kind of ads on radio and television directed at adults, surely.

    There is no more dangerous thin edge to the wedge than a government ‘educating’ and ‘providing information’ to people (adults).

    There is nothing stopping medical associations running ads if they like, paid for by members of the doctors’ union.

  29. FDB

    Also, in Sinclair’s defence (though he may not want it), education is a lifelong process.

    If CL thinks that adults should be exempt from paternalistic legislation/education campaigns, then he might like to revise his views on the NT intervention.

  30. But yes, prohibitions on advertising and packaging are a violation of free speech.

    But if we remove prohibition then all manner of new drugs will emerge on the market. Will we then prohibit the advertising of these? Corporations will see easy money here and they will be correct. Getting people hooked on something is not that hard. Enough advertising, good product, you have a winner.

    This is where we run into a deep problem because once prohibition is lifted a whole raft of drugs becomes available and these drugs will sufficiently different to attract a wide market base for each specific drug. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as an addictive substance, it is typically very contextualised, but once you have a wide variety of substances out there more and more people will become addicted.

    There is one solution, all treatments for addiction and issues of personal loss must be addressed by the corporation that sold the drugs.

  31. FDB

    Sometimes JC, your instinctive urge to disagree with me gets you in a tangle.

    This is one of those times.

  32. C.L.

    If CL thinks that adults should be exempt from paternalistic legislation/education campaigns, then he might like to revise his views on the NT intervention.

    The intervention began because of an identified crisis of child sexual abuse. Or is it your contention that Aboriginal children are in fact adults? I have always opposed race-based prohibition policies for Aboriginal adults, excepting where such prohibitions are mandated by community elders and in situ governing authorities.

    So your typically half-cocked attempt at a gotcha failed. Why don’t you just try to contribute to the discussion instead of being a doofus?

    By the way, I also oppose racist urban lefties and the Green Party (BIRM) doing all they can to prohibit Aborigines using their own land as they see fit.

  33. JC

    FDB

    No I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I was asking you a legit question as I thought we had spoken about that a few times in the past.

  34. JC

    If CL thinks that adults should be exempt from paternalistic legislation/education campaigns, then he might like to revise his views on the NT intervention.

    FDB,

    Here’s where I’m coming from. I haven’t followed the story very much since the intervention. From what I recall we were told by the government that there were serious concerns about social brake down in some of these remote townships where violence and kids being sexually molested. We were told it wasn’t just prevalent, but had almost become a way of life.

    Even the “courageous” Maxine McKew who subsequently said something like she knew of this going on but was too PC in publicly disclosing it. Perhaps that’s why she lasted one term.

    If there is any role for government it is to ensure the security of the citizens and in that case it appeared more than necessary to go in and not just stop it, but charge the culprits and put them away for life.

    As for welfare… I don’t see how having strings attached to welfare even for some risk groups somehow is at odds with libertarian philosophy. It’s not a right to be on welfare and if strings are attached then so be it. If strings are attached to particular groups … well stiff cheddar. There is always the alternative of trying to go out and find a job.

  35. FDB

    JC – I believe adults can and in many cases should be targetted with education campaigns.

    Your argument about the NT intervention is with CL, who thinks otherwise.

    I only brought up the NT intervention as a rhetorical device, to force him to confront his hypocrisy.

    Of course, all I’ll get for my trouble is the accusation that I think raping babies is equivalent to smoking weed, but that’s CL, innit? Not a credible person.

  36. Sinclair Davidson

    John H – I’m never in favour of restricting free speech.

  37. Sinclair Davidson

    CL – supra4 ?

  38. “I have no problems with educational programs and no problems with prohibition of the sale of tobacco to children.”

    While we’re at it, what about the other main element in tobacco control – the semi-punitive taxation of tobacco products to drive up the price? Where do you stand on that?

  39. Sinclair Davidson

    Taxation only for the purposes of raising revenue – so to the extent there is a mild addition to tobacco you can probably raise cigarette taxes a bit (on that logic medication should be taxed too). Taxation for the purpose of social engineering is a no-no. It also leads to perverse outcomes. For example, selling smaller packs of cigarettes can lead to people smoking less, but that reduces the price of the packet making it more affordable to kids, so in some jurisdictions that isn’t allowed.

  40. .

    Chris – you’re a concern troll muppet. You already know the answer.

    Decriminalisation is good, legalisation and cutting taxes is better.

    One has to wonder why you run interference for less choice, higher taxes, the drug war etc. You must like suffering. When you categorically say you’re against tobacco excise and the ensuing organised crime it causes, you’ll have some credibility.

    Concern troll FAIL.

  41. The reversal of the presumption of innocence in drug-possession cases is incompatible with the rule of law and is therefore unconstitutional in all jurisdictions. Moreover, the economics of the drug trade dictate that criminal sanctions are self-defeating unless concentrated on retail sales. See: The universally unconstitutional war on drugs.

  42. .

    Precisely Gav, which only barbarous nations find acceptable. Demand inelastic, supply elastic.

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