Better information makes drugs markets work better: so why not legalise them to make them work even better?


Over at Quartz there's a fascinating piece where the economist meets the pot dealer. And the two discuss how the dark net, the use of Tor and illicit drugs markets on it, improve the markets for drugs. Now, of course, it's entirely possible to insist that drugs are fer' the devil and we should simply stamp it all out. And given that no human society yet has managed to do that that's probably not going to be successful. That idea also doesn't address our own belief that consenting adults should be allowed to ingest what consenting adults wish to ingest: it is, after all, their own body doing the ownership and we're all pretty sure these days that no one, not even the state, owns the body of a consenting adult other than that consenting adult. Given those two, it is therefore interesting to see what happens when dealers need to stand by their product and reputation is important:

The root cause of this market inefficiency is information asymmetry. You don’t know how good an illegal drug is until you consume it, and you can’t turn to the law to enforce agreements, return a substandard product, or complain to your dealer if he tries to rob you. That prevents price discovery and risk compensation, key features of a well-functioning market.

What makes the dark web a game-changer is that it has those features. Suppliers have detailed reviews on their product, the market is competitive, and people can shop around easily. Aspiring sellers struggle to get a foothold without a history of good reviews; sometimes they offer special deals and an easy exchange policy in return for good reviews. And the markets are global, so it’s possible to see prices in other countries. All this produces a well-behaved price distribution like the one you’d find in any functional, legal market.

Assuming that those are all features that we'd like to have where consenting adults do as consenting adults do, that's a good argument for the legalisation, not just the decriminalisation, of drugs. For while these illegal markets do work by reputation, just as brands do for many consumer items (and in exactly the same manner too) it is of course better to have such promises baked up by the usual resources of the civil law.

as above, some part of the opposition to the taking of drugs is simply this idea that people shouldn't. Which is a projection of personal desires onto the lives of other which we do not think has a part of a liberal society. Once that is over come then we want the provision of whatever it is to be as efficient and simple, with the greatest consumer protections, as possible. And given the way that these illegal markets are developing, we can see how they would continue to develop if legal. Towards being markets much like those for toothpaste and canned soup. Reliant upon reputation, delivery, quality, rather than who has the most and most violent thugs to control a particular territory.

We find it difficult to imagine why anyone would be against such beneficial developments quite frankly.