Another strike against the war on drugs

Blog, Regulation, Meredith Lilly

The Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report today damning the “futile” war on drugs. They urge governments to decriminalize various street drugs in order to curb crime and protect the health of citizens.

Though billions have been spent on the war against drugs, both consumption and crime have continued to rise. According to the report,

Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.

They cite policy examples from Switzerland, the UK and the Netherlands that are based on “public health instead of criminalization” (Sound familiar?). These progressive measures (including heroin prescription programs) have lead to decreased rates of crime and consumption.

Another notably successful policy example is that of Portugal, which decriminalized a host of street drugs in 2001. According to a 2009 study published by the Cato Institute, “by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success”

The number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006 (Source)

It has been demonstrated again and again, when drugs are illegal, their price increases massively and dealers become richer. The stakes are high and the crimes brutal. If you accept the Commission’s guiding principals that drug policies must be based on empirical data and must consider public health issues, the evidence supporting these radical new policies is overwhelming.

Finally, If you don’t find the quantitative argument compelling, check out Planet Money’s interview with former crack dealer Freeway Rick Ross. He largely confirms what academics have suspected, plus he offers a brilliant description of why jail time isn’t a substantial deterrent in the trade.

(Also, won’t somebody please think of the puppies?)