An interesting point on prohibition


I received an interesting booklet in the post this week from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, an outfit that presses for reform of drug law in the UK. I can't say I agree with them on every single point – their proposals could, arguably, leave the drug market over-regulated and thus fail to eradicate the deeply harmful illegal trade. But nonetheless, it's good to have someone campaigning for good sense on such an important issue.

The arguments against prohibition are well rehearsed, and will probably not be new to readers of this blog. To sum them up in a series of bullet points (more or less borrowed from the IEA's excellent Prohibitions):

  • Prohibition places markets in criminal hands
  • It increases the risk of already risky activities
  • It criminalizes people who would not otherwise be criminals
  • It divert police resources away from activities that actually harm third parties
  • It increases public ignorance
  • It doesn't actually work (i.e. if you can't keep drugs out of prisons, how can you keep them out of a free society)

Another interesting point against prohibition, which I had not previously thought about much, is mentioned in Transform's booklet:

[I]llegal markets under prohibition always tend to cause concentration of available drug preparations which are more profitable per unit weight. Just as under alcohol prohibition the trade in beer gave way to more concentrated, profitable and dangerous spirits, the same trend has been observed over the past centuries with opiates – from opium (smoked or in drinkable preparations) to injectable heroin, and more recently with the cannabis market being increasingly saturated with more potent varieties. With coca-based products the transformation has been dramatic... It was prohibition which first cocaine powder onto the streets in the first place, and finally produced high-risk smokable crack.

Wouldn't it be nice if politician's understood and appreciated the law of unintended consequences?