Last February Gary Becker wrote a post on the Becker-Posner blog calling for marijuana to be decriminalized. Ten months earlier he publicly called for the legalization of a wide range of drugs. He listed some of the advantages of decriminalizing marijuana, such as undercutting drug cartels, enabling those needing medical help to come forward, and saving costs on enforcement.
There is no doubt that the war on drugs has been a disaster. It has led to a huge upsurge in crime in both the producer and consumer countries. There have been murders by the tens of thousands, and the profits from the illegal drugs trade have corrupted the law in many countries. Drug use has not deceased. Any rational person would propose trying a different approach, yet most of those in legislatures and the media insist that we should do even more of what we already know does not work.
Becker is in accord with what the Adam Smith Institute has said. We have called for addiction to be regarded as a medical problem rather than a criminal one. We proposed that clinics be set up on High Streets manned by doctors and nurses. Addicts would be able to go in and, subject to undergoing medical examination and receiving advice, should receive free supplies to be consumed on the premises. Since people would not do this for recreational drugs, we proposed that cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine should be legalized.
The crime built up on the drugs trade would vanish. Teenagers would no longer shoot each other on the streets in drug turf wars. Prisons would find they had space again. People would no longer find their habits set them against the law, regarding police and the courts as their enemies. Control over quality would be established, and deaths from tainted doses or overdoses would diminish.
Yes, drug use might increase. More young people might be tempted to give it a try, just as many do today with tobacco and alcohol. But what we have at the moment is far worse. We have a situation with drugs approximating to America’s stint on prohibition of alcohol, with criminal gangs flourishing like weeds and lawlessness prevailing. It is time to try it Becker’s way instead.