What I Think About Drug Legalization

I’ve posted on this subject before but the topic has usually been embedded within a post about something else or within comments so I thought I put it here for easier reference. What always bugs me about the subject is that people are so unwilling to define their terms.

Let me do some defining. I think you can divide the subject into several different categories. I have no problem with legalizing the sale or use of marijuana. I think that legalizing the sale or use of all Schedule I drugs would be imprudent although I’m willing to listen to arguments over decriminalizing the use of Schedule I drugs. I think that making everything—not just “recreational drugs” but antibiotics, anti-depressants, antivirals, you name it—would be foolish.

I also think that many of the benefits touted by advocates of broad legalization would only be realized in the extreme case of all Schedule I drugs being completely legalized and unregulated or taxed. Cigarettes are legal but there’s a thriving black market because they’re regulated and taxed.

59 comments… add one

  • PD Shaw

    Steve V, I believe the reason you and others disagree with Dave on this is that you are libertarians and thus do not place much value in seeing human beings as social animals, which is the point from which Dave is arguing — gangs as social organizations, not necessarily even good at profit-making. Dave is not a libertarian. I am not either, though for some reason all the fanciful ideas for regulating obesity drive me crazy.

  • Icepick

    Claim 1: 60% of Drug Cartels profits come from marijuana.

    Okay, I misunderstood and thought it was 60% of drug profits period. I withdraw my previous post.

    But 60%? Damn, that sounds high. (Ahem.) Does marijuana have that high a profit margin? Or do they just sell that much of it?

    I’m also curious, how much of that Mexican drug cartel profit is from sales in the US versus sales in Mexico? It’s not like Mexico is a small country….

  • Icepick

    you are libertarians and thus do not place much value in seeing human beings as social animals

    Which is why I can’t identify as a libertarian.

    This reminds me of a girl from a speech class I took over 20 years ago. She was pretty, maybe 18, had some brains but no experience, was from a nice family, etc. And one day while discussing drug policy someone asked if anyone would really do drugs just because they were legalized. And she said, “Sure, I’d try coke if it were legal.” At the time that statement floored me. “Do coke or don’t do coke as one sees fit,” I thought, being more libertarian in my youth, “but don’t decide to do that or anything else based on mere legality!” It took a long time before I realized that giving the state seal of approval to some behavior can really have an impact. These days that sad fact is evident everywhere….

  • TastyBits

    @Icepick

    Before the internet, obtaining info took a lot of work. I kept an almanac nearby at all times. I would always breakdown the newspaper numbers, and they usually did not support the assertions.

  • Icepick

    TB, I still have a few almanacs on one of my shelves. I’ve got 1968 (my birth year), 1976 (BiCentennial, and my first almanac!) and The U.S. Book of Facts Statistics & Information for 1969. Just opened the last up to a chart on disposable personal income from 1930 to 1967. Total GDP listed at just under the staggering sum of $800 billion. That wouldn’t even pay off the deficit these days, LOL!

  • PD,

    Of course libertarians see humans as social animals. Your statement is patently offensive, so much so I’ll give you this piece of advice, when talking to libertarians in real life, you might want to eschew such language so as to avoid the real time punch to the nose.

    However, I happen to also realize that money is very important in any economic endeavor and that includes drug trafficking/selling. Gangs don’t do it just so they can hang out together and shoot the shit. They do it mainly for money. So the claims Dave has been constantly relying on:

    Shrinking profits will have absolutely no impact on gangs at all, ever,

    is patently ridiculous. Now if he said, “Gangs wont go away, I’d say, yeah I know.” I made that claim to him several weeks ago in another post when I pointed out that organized crime is far older than 1920’s prohibition. So you see, Dave has these…glaring inconsistencies in his beliefs/views.

    As for the people agreeing, it is me, Drew and…wait for it…Michael. Michael is not a libertarian by any stretch of the word. I’d also argue Drew is probably more like James Joyner, a Republican with strong libertarian leanings.

    So I’ll finish this off by saying, Dave is stubbornly clinging to a view about drugs, that if we shifted to any other economic endeavor he would absolutely not hold. That is what I find so damn perplexing.

  • Shrinking profits will have absolutely no impact on gangs at all, ever,

    I’ve searched my posts and comments pretty carefully. I don’t think I ever wrote that. If I did, it wasn’t what I intended. What I think is what I have written: that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities and won’t go away if you reduce their drug profit margins. What they will do is turn their attentions to other illegal activities in which the profit margins are higher. Basically, I think that you and Michael are over-estimating the effect that legalization of Schedule I drugs would have on criminal gangs. I note that you’ve never produced any evidence supporting the idea that gangs will just go away if their profits are reduced, just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

  • jan

    ‘Fixing’ human behavior is not the same as attending to a flat tire, as there is usually multiple components innately involved as to why people act the way they do.

    We are complicated beings, with many hidden secrets as to why and how we think things through. And, simplistically applying one sweeping antidote, such as legalizing drugs, to rid society of gang activity, or, in the case of gun violence, taking away all guns, advocates of these solutions will probably be disappointed by the marginal results.

    Much like weeds in a garden, alternative behavior and/or evil doings will spring up, replacing a targeted issue with another equally distasteful one, which will then dominate differing conversations around the water cooler or on the internet.

  • I’ve searched my posts and comments pretty carefully. I don’t think I ever wrote that.

    What else does “legalizing marijuana will have no impact on drug cartels/gangs/etc.” mean then? You have staked out a number of positions and when somebody challenges them you ignore the challenges.

    What I think is what I have written: that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities and won’t go away if you reduce their drug profit margins.

    1. 60% is not a marginal change. Neither is 30%. Marginal changes are “small” changes, not big ones.
    2. All social organizations ultimately will have to bow, at least to some extent, to economic pressure and incentives.

    Let me run with 2 a bit. What 2 means is that drug gangs got into drug trafficking because of the money. Remove the money from drug trafficking then organized crime will look elsewhere to replace that revenue. Even if they can replace that revenue in total, it does not necessarily follow that the gang will retain its composition that it had when it was trafficking in marijuana. It will almost surely change. At the very least it will change. To deny that is, in my opinion, risible. That leaves one with discussing how the organized crime entities will change.

    What they will do is turn their attentions to other illegal activities in which the profit margins are higher.

    No. Organized crime is already doing this and it is drug trafficking. What they will do is switch to their second, third, etc. best options for making money. The idea that they have been ignoring illegal activities that have an even higher profit margin is highly suspect.

    I note that you’ve never produced any evidence supporting the idea that gangs will just go away if their profits are reduced, just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

    Go away? I don’t think anybody has said “go away”. I think the overall view of the legalization crowd is, “it will help reduce gang violence”. I don’t think anyone is saying it is a magic bullet; which I’ve said repeatedly.

    …just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

    Yes, probably you can. It is the basic concept of opportunity cost. Even if they replace the revenues it is far more likely that profits will go down. Why? Because by switching now, absent any legalization, would generate more profits if what you are claiming is true.

    You know its funny, not too long ago Dave you made a post/comment (I forget which) that pointed to prohibition as giving rise to organized crime. I replied that organized crime has a longer history than that, but that prohibition (alcohol) probably helped organized crime by giving them an enormous revenue source. In a way we’ve switched…or at least you have. Now you accept the persistence of organized crime, however you seem to be wedded to this notion that organized crime will always maintain their profit margins some how and failing that they still wont change their structure/size, even in the long run.

    …that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities…

    Everything people do…gangs, marriages, NASA, everything, is constrained by the amount of resources they can obtain. In essence, everything is constrained by economics, which is about the production, distribution, and consumption of resources. Modern neo-classical economics is focused on one method of production, distribution and consumption of resources–markets. But even absent markets, people will always be constrained by the amount of resources that are available to them. Gangs having a strong social element does nothing to change this. To put in stark terms: put a gang on a deserted island they would likely behave very differently than if you left them in their “natural” environment.

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