The unwinnable war

In The Wall Street Journal, former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil call for a radical overhaul of the “War on Drugs”:

The war on drugs has failed. And it’s high time to replace an ineffective strategy with more humane and efficient drug policies. This is the central message of the report by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy we presented to the public recently in Rio de Janeiro.
Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.
Over the last 30 years, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort where the benefits were not proportional to the resources invested. Despite the country’s achievements in lowering levels of violence and crime, the areas of illegal cultivation are again expanding. In Mexico — another epicenter of drug trafficking — narcotics-related violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past year alone.
[…]
…we propose a paradigm shift in drug policies based on three guiding principles: Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime. To translate this new paradigm into action we must start by changing the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to patients cared for by the public-health system.
We also propose the careful evaluation, from a public-health standpoint, of the possibility of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use. Cannabis is by far the most widely used drug in Latin America, and we acknowledge that its consumption has an adverse impact on health. But the available empirical evidence shows that the hazards caused by cannabis are similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco.
If we want to effectively curb drug use, we should look to the campaign against tobacco consumption. The success of this campaign illustrates the effectiveness of prevention campaigns based on clear language and arguments consistent with individual experience. Likewise, statements by former addicts about the dangers of drugs will be far more compelling to current users than threats of repression or virtuous exhortations against drug use.

Via Dan Gardner, who has long argued that the “War on Drugs” is seriously undermining the war in Afghanistan. With the Canadian military death toll in that country now at 111, a serious debate on this subject is long overdue.
Damian P.

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3 thoughts on “The unwinnable war

  1. Decriminalizing marijuana is a silly half way measure that will change nothing because it will not change the street price. I mean, who in Canada gets arrested for smoking pot? Is this not de facto decriminalization?
    I think that the best fix would be to make it legal to buy seeds, legal to grow a certain amount in your home, legal to possess a certain amount in public, include it in our anti-smoking laws, and have it remain illegal to sell.
    Establish a clear and fair way for people who want it to obtain it legally, and harshly punish anyone who steps out of that system since there will be no more excuses for leniency.
    This would drop the value to rosemary and cilantro levels. It would also keep it out of the hands of kids who don’t have their own homes to grow it in, poor parenting aside.
    If you try to sell it in stores with vice taxes in place like tobacco, the street value becomes 10-20% less than the legal price and the gangs can continue making marginally less money or by selling “better” product that exceeds whatever arbitrary potency limit is decided on.
    For that matter, how many people would be industrious enough to grow enough of their own tobacco for a pack a day habit?

  2. “If you try to sell it in stores with vice taxes in place like tobacco, the street value becomes 10-20% less than the legal price and the gangs can continue making marginally less money or by selling “better” product that exceeds whatever arbitrary potency limit is decided on. ”
    I disagree with only this part of your post. Given the choice between buying marijuana from a store at 10-20% higher than the street price, that would, presumably have to meet quality control and regulatory standards, and buying from some dude in a dark alley, do you really think people would take the latter?
    If your theory was correct, then ending prohibition shouldn’t have put the bottleggers out of business, since it would be cheaper to buy booze from them, then from the liquor store.
    That’s not to say that there still wouldn’t be illegal activities still going on (we still have cigarette smuggling and the odd after-hours clubs). But like you said, there would be no excuses so you punish the people that step out of line, and everyone else gets high and eats nachos.

  3. SLM,
    I think that the black market can compete on quality, and if there are any limits on the potency they can win. The main thing will be volume discounts though. These won’t, and really can’t responsibly, be made available to store buyers.
    I really think that the killer blow to gangs is to make it worthless. Don’t leave them any money to be made.

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