Let’s Be Blunt: It’s Time to End the Drug War – Forbes

April 20 is the counter-culture “holiday” on which lots and lots of people come together to advocate marijuana legalization (or just get high). Should drugs—especially marijuana—be legal? The answer is “yes.” Immediately. Without hesitation. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 seized in a civil asset forfeiture. The war on drugs has been a dismal failure. It’s high time to end prohibition. Even if you aren’t willing to go whole-hog and legalize all drugs, at the very least we should legalize marijuana.

For the sake of the argument, let’s go ahead and assume that everything you’ve heard about the dangers of drugs is completely true. That probably means that using drugs is a terrible idea. It doesn’t mean, however, that the drug war is a good idea.

Prohibition is a textbook example of a policy with negative unintended consequences. Literally: it’s an example in the textbook I use in my introductory economics classes (Cowen and Tabarrok, Modern Principles of Economics if you’re curious) and in the most popular introductory economics textbook in the world (by N. Gregory Mankiw).The demand curve for drugs is extremely inelastic, meaning that people don’t change their drug consumption very much in response to changes in prices. Therefore, vigorous enforcement means higher prices and higher revenues for drug dealers. In fact, I’ll defer to Cowen and Tabarrok—page 60 of the first edition, if you’re still curious—for a discussion of the basic economic logic:

The more effective prohibition is at raising costs, the greater are drug industry revenues. So, more effective prohibition means that drug sellers have more money to buy guns, pay bribes, fund the dealers, and even research and develop new technologies in drug delivery (like crack cocaine). It’s hard to beat an enemy that gets stronger the more you strike against him or her.


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I like how this article points out that being pro-legalization doesn’t necessarily mean that you think drug taking is completely and utterly safe and carries no risks whatsoever. It’s pretty patronising to hear this from other people when I argue that legalization might get better results — “Oh but don’t you know how dangerous drugs are?! And you’d happily have them legalized and make everyone think they are safe to take?!” No, I know drugs are dangerous. I wouldn’t say they are completely safe just because they are legal; equally, some of the stuff I was taught at school was exaggerated nonsense that was aimed to justify why they are illegal, whilst conveniently ignoring that alcohol is legal but potentially dangerous and harmful too. I just think we should try something else because clearly the drug war isn’t working, and if something doesn’t work, you do something else. The only people the war is working for is those who sell the drugs.


The real big killer is tobacco, though. Around 400,000 people in the US die every year as a result of tobacco smoking. 19% of US adults smoke.

50,000 – 100,000 die as a result of alcohol use. 67% percent of US adults report being drinkers.

15,000 as a result of prescription drug use (mostly the result of benzodiazpines and prescription opiates, and combining those with alcohol or each other).

15,000 as a result of nonprescription use of prescription drugs (such as cocaine and methamphetamine, which are prescription drugs available from your doctor), and also illegal drugs such as heroin and MDMA. These are mostly the result of heroin, prescription opiates, benzodiazepines and combining those with alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine.

Less than 20 people die every year as a result of the use of MDMA (“ecstasy”). MDMA is the third most popular illegal drug in the US after cannabis and cocaine.

Zero people die every year as a result of the use of cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, or LSD. 30-50% of US adults have tried cannabis at least once, while around 7-10% use it on a regular basis.


Here’s a fairly detailed graph from the lancet.


– babyminnow


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