Words of Wisdom:

"I've seen the truth and it makes no sense!" - Whatever

American Depress

  • Date Submitted: 09/29/2010 04:07 PM
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How To Stop the Drug Wars
Prohibition has failed; legalization is the least bad solution.

A HUNDRED years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission—just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a “drug-free world” and to “eliminating or significantly reducing” the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.

That is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled.

Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why as economic advisors we hypothesize that the least bad policy is to legalize drugs.

“Least bad” does not mean good. Legalization, though clearly better for producer countries, would bring (different) risks to consumer countries. As I outline below, many vulnerable drug-takers would suffer. But in my view, more would gain.

The Evidence of Failure

Nowadays the UN Office on Drugs and Crime no longer talks about a drug-free world. Its boast is that the drug market has “stabilized”, meaning that more than 200m people, or almost 5% of the world’s adult population,...


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