Forbes magazine, long considered one of the most important outlets for business, has an article explaining why the war on drugs has been a massive failure and why it’s time to legalize drugs and end the destruction. It’s written by economist Art Carden.
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…
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.
People associate the drug trade with crime and violence; indeed, the newspapers occasionally feature stories about drug kingpins doing horrifying things to underlings and competitors. These aren’t caused by the drugs themselves but from the fact that they are illegal (which means the market is underground) and addictive (which means demanders aren’t very price sensitive).
That only scratches the surface of the many reasons why the drug war should be ended. Are we seeing the beginning of a real movement to do that? Quite possibly. I hope so.
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