Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Futile War on Drugs that Wastes Money and Wrecks Lives

George Soros writes in FT:
The war on drugs has been a $1tn failure. For more than four decades, governments around the world have pumped huge sums of money into ineffective and repressive anti-drug efforts. These have come at the expense of programs that actually work such as needle exchanges and substitution therapy. This is not just a waste of money, it is counterproductive.

The London School of Economics has just completed perhaps the most thorough account of the war on drugs done to date. The conclusion, backed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists: it has done more harm than good.

Drug prohibition has created an immense black market, valued by some at $300bn. It shifts the burden of “drug control” on to producer and transit countries such as Afghanistan and Mexico. This approach also fails to grapple with a basic truth: drug markets are highly adaptive. Repress the business in one country and it springs up elsewhere.

Consider Colombia. When its law enforcement agencies made progress cracking down on the country’s cocaine trade, much of the criminal business and the violence that goes with it moved to Mexico. The LSE report estimates that after 2007, Colombia’s interdiction policies accounted for more than 20 per cent of the rise in Mexico’s murder rate.

Bogotá had a lot of mayhem to export. The explosion of the illegal drug market between 1994 and 2008 “explains roughly 25 per cent of the current homicide rate in Colombia. That translate into about 3,800 more homicides per year on average that are associated with illegal drug markets and the war on drugs”, according to the report. This type of violence takes a massive economic toll; corporations relocate, foreign investment dries up, industries decline and citizens flee in search of a better life.

The costs are not limited to producer countries; consumer nations suffer as well.

This is especially so in the US, which has less than 5 per cent of the world’s people but almost 25 per cent of the planet’s incarcerated population. Most are drug and other non-violent offenders for whom drug treatment and other alternatives to incarceration would probably prove cheaper and more effective in reducing recidivism and protecting society. Worldwide, 40 per cent of the 9m people who are incarcerated are behind bars for drug-related offences – and that figure is only likely to rise, as arrests of drug offenders in Asia, Latin America and West Africa are increasing steadily.
But, ever the interventionist, Soros does not see complete freedom as the solution, he wants government involved from another direction:
The LSE report, to be released on Wednesday, recommends that governments give top priority to proved public health policies, moving to minimize harm in illicit markets, and mandating “rigorously monitored policy and regulatory experimentation”. I heartily concur.

Governments the world over need to weigh the costs and benefits of their current policies, and be willing to redirect resources towards programs that work. This will save lives – and save money along the way. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix a broken global framework for coping with the drug crisis. The costs of doing nothing are too great to bear.
Why does Soros call for any intervention?

Laurence Vance put it best when he wrote specifically with regard to the United States:
  • Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the national government to intrude itself into the personal eating, drinking, or smoking habits of Americans.
  • Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the national government to regulate, criminalize, or prohibit the manufacture, sale, or use of any drug.
  • Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the national government to restrict or monitor any harmful or mood-altering substances that any American wants to eat, drink, smoke, inject, absorb, snort, sniff, inhale, swallow, or otherwise ingest into his body.
  • Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the national government to concern itself with the nature and quantity of any substance Americans want to consume.
  • Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the national government to ban anything.
  • That explains why libertarians don’t stop with marijuana, medical or otherwise. Marijuana should be legal for the simple reason that all drugs should be legal.
It is strange that libertarians, who have some major reservations with the Constitution, have no trouble clearly seeing when the federal government violates it; but conservatives, who say they reverence the Constitution, are blind to just how much the federal government’s war on drugs violates it.

But Constitution or no Constitution, it is not the purpose of government at any level — federal, state, or local — to regulate or monitor Americans’ consumption habits or recreational activities.
For an important libertarian take on drugs, see Vance's book: The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom


  1. Based on Laurence Vance's simplistic understanding of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights is not even needed. Where does it say in the Constitution that Congress can conduct a search, censor speech, take someone's life or liberty, start a religion? Obviously the Constitution is not meant to be read in such a simplistic manner. The existence of the Bill of Rights confirms that Congress is not limited to only those powers specifically and clearly enumerated.

    1. So it is instead limited to the powers specifically imagined?

      What wisdom.....

  2. I can see my statist days flashing before my eyes disagreeing with LV. Not anymore.