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Drug Wars

By Matthew Yglesias

"Drug Wars"

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I guess this is something liberals and libertarians are supposed to agree about, but I consistently find it bizarre that there are some people who seem to think it would be a good idea if you could just walk into your local convenience store and pick up some heroin or crack along with your Fritos and Diet Coke. At times, people taking this line seem to argue that drug prohibition couldn’t possibly be having any beneficial effects because, after all, you can still find heroin. Naturally enough, you don’t see anyone proposing that the “war on mugging” be ended simply because mugging-prohibition has failed to actually eliminate the proscribed activity. That said, like any reasonable person I think many aspects of current crime-control and drug-control policy in the United States don’t make sense. So I have a hard time knowing what to make of things like this from Jerry Taylor:

While it should be obvious to any fair-minded observer that our increasingly brutal war on drugs is a losing proposition on all counts, few of us seem to be fair minded observers. So allow me to pose a question to those of you still clinging to this benighted enterprise: Exactly what would it take to convince you that the drug war was causing more harm than good? Is there any bit of data, any hypothetical fact, or anything at all that would cause you to give up the policy ghost? Because if there is not, then we are in the realm of religious belief — and that’s about all that I can find to support this cruel, costly, and counterproductive jihad.

I mean, I’m not even clear on what question’s being asked here. Do I think the status quo is preferable to total deregulation of currently prohibited drugs? I would say so. But considering how heavily regulated the use of alcohol and tobacco is, one hardly imagines that a heroin free-for-all (ads after school cartoons, for sale out of ice cream trucks) is a likely alternative policy. So, I don’t know. What is the “war on drugs” exactly? Does it do more harm than good compared to what? That said, this Mike Males op-ed Taylor links to sure is interesting:

It’s time to end the obsession with hyping teenage drug use. The meaningless surveys that policy makers now rely on should be replaced with a comprehensive “drug abuse index” that pulls together largely ignored data on drug-related deaths, hospital emergencies, crime, diseases and similar practical measures. . . .

Few experts would have suspected that the biggest contributors to California’s drug abuse, death and injury toll are educated, middle-aged women living in the Central Valley and rural areas, while the fastest-declining, lowest-risk populations are urban black and Latino teenagers. Yet the index found exactly that. These are the sorts of trends we need to understand if we are to design effective policies.

I wouldn’t have guessed that.

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