Posts Tagged ‘crime & health costs|’

Let’s Stop This Insanity!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

I do not know about you, but I am sick and tired of this insanity. And I am not talking about The X Factor or Deal or Not Deal. No, I am referring to the War on Drugs (WoD); that is, the policies different governments and their law enforcement agencies have been putting in place for almost two generations — two generations! — to combat the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs.

What makes the whole enterprise so insane is that the WoD, with all its devastating effects, is predicated on the misguided notion that the use of drugs can be stopped by decree; that we will get rid of the problem just by prohibiting the production and consumption of narcotics. And let me be clear and categorical about it: drugs like heroine, crack cocaine and the like are highly addictive and the consequences for those unfortunate enough to get hooked on them are dire — as are those for society as a whole. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether the WoD is the rational, effective, or even practical, answer to the serious challenges the production and consumption of drugs, or to be precise, the ILLEGAL production and consumption of drugs poses to our society, to our democratic institutions and to us all.

I keep asking myself, how can one justify in the name of prohibition a war where hundreds, nay, thousands upon thousands of men, women and children are killed every year.[1] How can one justify in the name of prohibition a war where despite the gigantic amounts of resources spent fighting and dealing with it for several decades now,[2] the enemy this war seeks to defeat — the illegal drugs market and its profiteers — continues flourishing with gusto.[3] How can one justify in the name of prohibition a war where after four decades of “fighting”, the market for illicit drugs continues attracting more and more ruthless individuals willing to resort to the most heinous and murderous tactics to protect the source of their astronomical wealth.[4] How can one justify in the name of prohibition a war where despite decades of draconian legislation and harsh enforcement laws, the capabilities of the drug barons and their henchmen to infiltrate and corrupt all layers of society know no limits.

No doubt we would be keener to denounce the insanity of the WoD, should we had to endure in our country anything remotely similar to the levels of brutality with which the WoD is fought in drug producing countries, say Colombia or Mexico, to name only two.[5] It seems to me that many people in the UK, and in all major drug consuming countries for that matter, look at the WoD as if it had nothing to do with us. Some people would like to argue that drug producing countries have brought the WoD upon themselves, for they have chosen to produce them and in doing so, have chosen to pollute our society with their obnoxious commodity and should be punished for that. If anything, the argument goes, we are the victims of their wicked trade and it is only just and proper for the WoD to be fought on their soil, not ours. As a result, our attitude towards the WoD has become totally distorted,  and instead of acknowledging the decisive role drug consuming countries like ours play in perpetuating the WoD, some people choose to ignore it and blame it on drug producing countries. To some, the logic seems to be: no production, no consumption.

Perhaps understandably, we are easily inclined to shunt the burden of responsibility onto someone else, so that we do not have to ask ourselves hard questions. It reminds me of the all too frequent discussion about what to do with the appalling way the UK tabloids behave regarding peoples’ privacy. To some, the only conceivable solution is to ban them, as if the problem were the tabloids themselves and not those who read them, let alone buy them. The fact is that as long as someone is willing to ‘consume’ (read) them, there will always be someone willing to ‘produce’ (publish) them. To put it in very simplistic terms: no demand, no supply.

As you may have guessed, neither the supply nor the demand side of the market tells the whole story. However, whereas one can confidently say that the supply does not automatically create its own demand, one can also be confident in saying that almost invariably (that is to say, under the right conditions), where there is a demand, there is a supply. Provided people are willing and able to pay to satisfy their need, one can be reasonable sure that eventually somebody will find the way to satisfy it.[6]

As decades of trying have shown us, no matter how hard the policies are, trying to solve the drugs problem by attacking the production of drugs is doomed to fail, for the root of the problem is the demand for, not the supply of drugs. If you ask me where we should concentrate our efforts on dealing with the drugs problem, my money is on the demand side of the market. We need to recognise that our demand encourages, stimulates and sustains the production of drugs; we need to recognise that our willingness and ability to pay a good deal of money for a small quantity of drugs is what makes the illegal drugs market so profitable;[7] we need to recognise that it is because the illegal drugs market is extremely lucrative that their profiteers are willing and able to defend their business whatever the costs. In other words, we need to recognise that our demand is the linchpin of the WoD.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, for I intend to explore and discuss in this blog (hopefully, with your help) not just the economics, but other issues concerning the WoD as well, in particular, policies aimed at legalising the drugs market. In the meantime, allow me to tell you that the thrust of this blog is to face the discussion of the issues advanced in these pages in a non-ideological, matter of fact fashion. Since reliable data about most of the issues related to the drugs trade is difficult to come by, some of the opinions expressed in this blog should be taken for what they are, just opinions. However, it is my intention to support the arguments with as much hard evidence as possible, to give credit where credit is due and provide links to relevant sources of information whenever available.

Needless to say, your comments will be very much appreciated — even if you disagree, or should I say, especially if you disagree with what is being said in this blog. The only condition is that you keep the comments within the boundaries of a civilised, rational and respectful discussion.

  1. [1] In the last four years, almost 35,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico alone, 15,000 of them in 2010.
    N.B. By 2012 the number of people killed has increased to nearly 60,000
  2. [2] In the UK, class A drug use creates around £15.4 billion in crime and health costs each year. Unfortunately, there are no official figures about the amount of resources the UK spend, both directly and indirectly, on fighting the WoD at home and abroad.
  3. [3] According to a recent study contracted out by The European Commission, ‘The study has found no evidence that the global drug problem was reduced during the UNGASS period from 1998 to 2007.’
  4. [4] For obvious reasons, it is notoriously difficult to collect accurate and reliable data on the illegal market for drugs, both nationally and internationally. It is not surprising, then, to find that figures about the size of the illegal drug market vary greatly from one source to another. The report mentioned above is a good case in point. According to their study ‘… illicit drug markets generates more than one hundred billion Euros in sales…[a figure much] smaller than the €285 Billion estimated by UNODC in 2002/2003.’
  5. [5] I do believe that our attitude would be very different if we were watching, year after year, thousands of bodies lying strewn on our streets.
  6. [6] The total value of the drugs market in the UK was worth 5,271 million pounds in 2003/4.
  7. [7] The differential between the cost of producing and refining a kilogram of cocaine in producing countries like Bolivia on one side, and the final price paid in consuming countries like England on the other, cannot be more dramatic: ‘For cocaine and heroin the cost of production and refining…is a trivial share of the final price in Western countries, roughly one to two per cent’.
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