no third solution

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Responding to Critics: Legalize ALL Drugs

March 23rd, 2009

The comments thread at Legalize ALL Drugs is getting crowded. One particular commenter is challenging me, while interestingly enough evading most of the issues I raise. I’m using this space to respond and in the meantime, considering revamping the page layout to put comments below the post, rather than in the sidebar. (In general, I would prefer that any discussion of this length be carried out  blog-to-blog, and not in the comments section.  If you have your own blog, please respond to me with a post there, and I can respond in-kind, here.  If you don’t have a blog, go get one at Blogger.  It’s free.)

Unless otherwise indicated, the blockquotes are his.

Your statement that alcohol consumption was unaffected by prohibition is completely fallacious given that consumption data during the prohibition era is unavailable.

It is available, and I’ve shown you where to find it. That you’ve ignored it (even after demanding that I read the links you provide) speaks volumes.

Source: Clark Warburton, The Economic Results of Prohibition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 23-26, 72.


Jeffrey Miron, a legalization proponent who cites Warburton, doesnt even have these data in his analysis of prohibition.

Big deal. Thornton’s work does have these data.

However he does have data charts which depict, as I stated before, a decline in cirrhosis rates during the prohibition years. …This is fact and it is demonstrated by the data. Ergo alcohol related deaths decreased and, by making an educated guess, we can infer that consumption must have decreased as well.

The decline actually happened prior to WWI, which antedates the prohibition era by several years, and was part of a well-documented general decline in alcohol consumption and abuse. Furthermore, Warburton himself said that “there is thus no statistical evidence, at least so far as these death rates are concerned, that prohibition has had a measurable influence upon the general public health, either directly or indirectly through the living standard.” (p221)

frankly, your argument that prohibition should be repealed because people still have access to drugs exposes itself to as much ridicule as an assertion that DUI laws should be repealed because there are still drunk drivers.

That’s not my argument, and attacking such a straw-man isn’t going to earn you any credit, here.

If you say that the essay does not refute your point , then I will do so presently. Police do not fight the drug war to stop dealers from selling, they fight the drug war because people should not use drugs which harm their bodies; we all have to pay for their use through increased healthcare costs, social, and family costs.

There are many “dangerous” things that people do, things that they eat, or smoke, or enjoy, etc., which we don’t outlaw, which we don’t feel the need to kill people for doing.  Yet, the State fights a drug war, for control over what people do with their own bodies, and is willing to kill people just because they’re doing something that might one day hurt themselves.  Go ahead and say that people shouldn’t use those substances, either.  That’s cool.  Don’t use them if you don’t like them.  But don’t arrogate to yourself, the responsibility for the choices other people make with regards to their own bodies.  And don’t you fucking dare presume the right to kill them for choices they make, which would have zero impact on your life if you would simply leave them alone.  Enter, totalitarianism…

Does a man deserve to be shot because he wants to smoke a marijuana cigarette? Does he deserve to be imprisoned? Do his children deserve to grow up without a father? Does he deserve to be forced out of his job with little or no prospect for future gainful employment, merely because he wanted to relax on a Saturday night? Answer these questions honestly.

Society would be better off if we did not have the thousands of drug and alcohol induced deaths that occur each year. Legalizing drugs would not reduce these deaths, it would increase them by making it more acceptable to use drugs. This is evidenced by observational data. Your theories of inelasticity do not hold in real world examples. You can continue to cite a theory, but if it does not hold in real life, it is a poor theory. Your theory is poor.

No, it’s fucking bulletproof. In the past 40 years the U.S. government has spent untold billions fighting an economically impossible-to-win war against “drugs.” Every year, the budget gets bigger, more people are thrown in jail, more families are ruined, more city streets become war zones.And in the long-run, there has been no significant change in the general population’s frequency of use.

Finally, many drug dealers are career criminals who have been arrested numerous times for different offenses. Just because you take away their drugs does not imply that crime will decrease.

No, but it implies that the crimes related to the trafficking of drugs will decrease. Here, you’re making blanket statements loaded with weasel-words (“many” and “numerous” for example).  In any case, these factors work against one another: the unlucky ones are career criminals because a single drug-related offense is often sufficient stigmatization to preclude one from the formal economy altogether.  They are “criminals” in the drug trade because in practice, they’re largely not allowed to work anywhere else.

Criminals will simply move to other criminal activities which can earn them a profit, e.g.: your assertion that economic profit attracts market entry. Criminals will simply move to the next profitable activity in the criminal sector. Some of them may get “legal” jobs, but those who have criminal records and would not be hired. Many drug dealers have criminal records, and would not be hired. We can then infer that they would again rely on the informal sector to finance their livelihoods, since the formal economy will not accept them.

…While we may cut the homicide rate by say 50% (an extremely generous assumption), economically motivated homicide would still exist and so would crime. it would simply shift to other sectors of the economy. Criminals are dynamically efficient and will always find ways to make a profit illegally. By taking away their drugs, we are not taking away their ability generate new means to kill or earn profits through illegal means.

And as with any market, an increasing number of participants reduces the profitability. As profitability declines, they need to find another opportunity.  Some people will remain criminals, others on the margin will be pushed out of crime, because the profits are no longer enough to sustain them.  It is ridiculous to perpetuate a drug war which is itself responsible for creating criminals, and enabling them to profit.

What you’re saying is that everyone who uses, sells, distributes, grows, or is otherwise involved in the informal drug market, is demonstrably an evil, violent person, without exception. I don’t think it’s necessary to counter such a patently retarded assertion; merely pointing it out for what it is (patently retarded) should suffice.  But I previously asked you about the good people, another inquest you’ve completely ignored: I’m talking about doctors, lawyers, teachers, assembly-line workers, mothers, fathers, accountants, mortgage brokers, etc.  Here’s another chance to answer that question: lots of decent people use drugs occasionally and responsibly.  Should they be shot? Shot at? Put in jail? Answer these questions honestly.

Data also shows that if you legalize a drug, dealers may begin to more aggressively import their products, and push them harder via commercialization. Why would we risk enduring such scenarios? The track record of legalization is not solid enough to provide good reason to end prohibition. It is better to spend a mere 20 billion dollars or so yearly to fight the drug war, than to have our drug-related healthcare costs spike in a few years due to the increased usage that will occur, and has been shown to occur under legalization regimes.

As long as I abstain, there’s no reason that my health care bill should be affected in any significant manner by my neighbors use or abuse of any substances. Now, if the government wants to mess that all up by forcing me to pay for his hospital stays and ambulance runs, I’ll grant that’s a problem, but it’s one that’s caused proximately by the structure of the health care market and not his use/abuse. In any event, I’ve previously estimated the cost of incarceration to be something like $100,000 per inmate per year — costs which I feel the need to remind you, are paid for by everyone but the inmate himself. It’s hard to imagine a worst-case-scenario like the one you describe, where drug use is rampant, but paradoxically, the users aren’t dying off by the thousands (health care maintenace costs: $0 per dead drug abuser per year).

to finalize, the number of externalities (sic) concommitant (sic) withlegalization (sic) render its implementation highly risky and uncontrollable. And consider that if we legalize with the stipulation of regulated use of drugs, there will still exist an underground black market for drugs that are not regulated. Thus the issue of drug dealers would still exist even in a legalized but regulated regime. There will still remain a market for underaged (sic)users, and there will still remain a market for users who require drugs of high potentcy that the government is not willing to provide. The black market will continue to live on in numerous ways, and so will criminal activity

When was the last time you heard of underage people going to their local “alcohol dealer”? Or the last time you heard of an “alcohol gang turf war”?  That’s nonsense, and you know it.

What is to say he would be limited to $1000 per year? if drugs are legalized, that person will be able to buy more heroin as the market price goes down. When he is out of money, he will go back to crime to finance the habit again. this cycle will not be ended by legalization.

You’re asserting that individuals can continue to consume increasing amounts of harmful substances without dying. This warrants no further discussion.

in addition, the article i posted showed proof that legalization experiments resulted in increased usage. The idea of elasticity, while being nice in a classroom setting, is not always applicable to real life scenarios.

It’s pretty clear to me that you don’t know what I mean by elasticity/inelasticity. I said that consumption of drugs/alcohol is generally believed to be highly inelastic, which means that increases in price (prohibition can be thought of as a price) don’t have a marked effect on the quantity consumed. Likewise, reductions in price have little impact on how much more will be consumed: sure, some more will be consumed, but it’s not a unitary relationship, not even close. There are an awful lot of people, who, even if they were giving away drugs for free, wouldn’t use them. Hell, you’re one of them. There is no price at which you would be convinced to use heroin. And there are other people for whom no price is too high.

Now, you may challenge the assertion that drug use is not inelastic, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

before you retort, i want to see hard evidence behind your statments. (sic) The only evidence you’ve had so far is rhetoric.

I’ve given you evidence (here’s more: decriminalization has been an unquestionable success in Portugal, since 2001), all you’ve given me was a poorly written term-paper-for-sale-on-the-internet.

Someone else had the same theory as you and it failed.

Someone else had the same theory as you and it failed. It was called alcohol prohibition. You’ve previously countered that “it wasn’t given long enough to work.” Well, pot: meet kettle. Decriminalization hasn’t been given long enough to work, either.

no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics