Can We Win The War On Drugs?
Jim Blair

Much has been written about drugs and their prohibition. Most Europeans seem to favor legalization. In the US, most voice some support for the drug war, but a minority is questioning its effectiveness. In Singapore there seems to be strong support for the tough anti-drug laws.

In the US we have had various levels of intensity an our anti-drug campaign since it began about the time of WWI. During the 1960's the enforcement let up but it was intensified during the 1980's, and we are now assisting (pressuring?) other countries to stop growing and exporting various illegal drugs.

(It would not be polite to ask how many Americans are so addicted to the alkaloid caffeine that they can't start the day without a cup of coffee or to point out that we are the worlds major exporter of tobacco.)

Most of the discussion has centered around if drugs are bad for you- or how bad this drug is compared to that one. Few seen to accept the libertarian premise that good or bad, each individual has the right to decide what to do with their life. (Whadda ya think you own yourself or sumtin'). I want to consider the question of can a "war on drugs" be won?

Can we win?

In America we have the experience of Prohibition (of alcohol) during the 1920's. This effort demonstrated to me that after a market is established for a product that is easily made, the government cannot stop people from getting it. The reason has to due with supply and demand: when the demand exists, someone will find a way to supply it. I see this in Madison where the police have instituted an extensive "Blue Blanket" program to patrol areas where drugs are sold and/or used. The initial success of the program drove up the price of cocaine in Madison until it was twice the price in Chicago. This has made Madison the location of choice for drug dealers from Chicago, who rent motel rooms here to sell. Some are caught every week but there are always more to take their place.

And the US is the choice market for the drug dealers of the world because being illegal makes it more expensive- and Americans, even the "poor" have big bucks for drugs. A recent drug bust in Sommerset Circle (a poor welfare apartment complex in Madison) netted $60,000 worth of cocaine. When asked if this big catch would reduce the supply in the area, the police said no: that was just a typical weekend supply for that area.

Some people think that the US "drug problem" is caused by NAFTA or other foreign deals. There was much complaining from various inner city "leaders" about how the CIA was thought to have brought various drugs into the inner cities (and presumably forced the people there to buy and use). But I think they are all misunderstanding the problem. While economics is "supply side" in many respects, the drug problem is "demand side". It cannot be "solved" by trying to limit the supply. There are poor farmers all over the world, from Turkey to Thailand to Colombia and Mexico and points between who can easily grow a wide variety of drugs that are illegal in the US.

Supporters of restricting the growing of illegal drugs recently claimed that all ot the illegal drugs in the world are grown in an area that is less than half the size of the island of Puerto Rico. They see in this the chance to "wipe them out". I see this fact exactly the other way. If the entire world supply can be grown is such little space, they can never be stopped. There are always people who will find a way to grow inexpensive crops, and others who will get them to people who will pay a lot for them.

Even the jails have drugs available in them.

The jails in the US are so overcrowded with people in on drug charges that now murders, rapists and other violent criminals are being released for lack of space (especially in Florida). This is madness; drugs really do drive some people crazy. Legislators and judges.

As with alcohol and Prohibition, (and Viet Nam) how long will it take the voters and the elected officials to back away from a war that we just can't win?

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