Sunday, July 25, 2010

Drug warriors chasing their own tails

Police comments about a recent massive cocaine bust unintentionally underline the futility of prohibition.

As reported in The Australian:
WHEN NSW Police this week announced they had seized a 240kg shipment of cocaine from Mexico, officers were full of praise and caution.

"Until the head's taken off, it's never over," Detective Chief Superintendent Ken McKay told the ABC. "These people will come back at us. The profit margins are too great not to."
My bolding of the last sentence betrays the essential unworkability of prohibition, which is the very thing that jacks up the prices and creates the irresistible profits. Yet still the DEA in the US boasts about the success of their War on Drugs by citing price increases resulting from their efforts.

The quote above continues a current theme of police commentary which demonises a drug because of problems actually created by prohibition, a circular argument. The other big theme in the same vein is that people should avoid ecstasy pills because they don't know what's in them.

What the drug warlords seem not to understand is that the normal rules of price elasticity or risk are not the same for drugs as for, say, apples. If apples are in short supply and double in price, buyers simply switch to bananas for example.

This 'balloon effect' is shown clearly in the drug use graphs with the Australian story (above). The incorrectly headlined graphs clearly show that as the use of one drug declined between 2001-2007, another rose.

But even if the price of all the drugs rose at once there would be little effect on demand because the human appetite to alter consciousness seems to be insatiable -- just listen to the difficulty many people have giving up drink during the 'Dry July' campaign as promoted by ABC Radio 702 this month, in which people give up alcohol for a month for charity. One caller this week lamented how "flat and boring" her life as a teetotaller had become.

Our strong demand for mind-altering pleasure is why, even as the price of cannabis rocketed from $30 per ounce to $500 per ounce between the mid-1970s and '90s -- due to US satellites becoming able to photograph the big crops from space -- the use of cannabis still rose sharply, crossing to a new generation.

It seems the War on Drugs has currently succeeded in choking the global supply of MDMA ecstasy. But international reports show manufacturers are simply switching to less effective, more dangerous substances to fill the demand for party pills. (See links here and here)

So while the drug warriors crow about their successes they are in fact increasing the net risk to users. 

The story ends with another quote that supports the above interpretation:
Don Weatherburn, from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said police were doing a good job of trying to strangle supply; but the real problem was the "hugely growing demand".
It seems the authorities unconsciously admit they are chasing their own tails. It's a funny old world.

1 comment:

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