For the first time in my short blogging career, I want to expand on a previous post. The original post was about why drugs should be legal, but did not address how drug use is (poorly) managed because of prohibition. They are similar issues, but must be addressed from different perspectives. Contrary to the war on drugs propaganda, repealing drug prohibition would not lead to total chaos and blood-filled streets. In fact, repealing it would make it much easier to create peaceful ways of reducing drug use – as opposed to locking people in cages for their own “well-being”.
What is the core directive behind drug prohibition? Like any and all prohibitions, the main purpose is to prevent the use of a good or service by means of criminalizing the behavior through a subjective moral code. Thus, we are criminalizing drug use to prevent undesirable externalities – addiction, health issues, crime, family problems, and other destructive behaviors.
Although prohibition is a noble cause, we apply completely different logic to coping with other undesirable behaviors with similar externalities. Alcohol and tobacco are treated as public health issues, as opposed to criminal justice issues. As a result, preventative and rehabilitative measures have come to being with the intent of reducing the consumption and resulting externalities of these substances.
These measures are more efficient and constantly improving. However, drug prohibition slows the development of similar, drug-related goods and services because the “demand” is fulfilled by ineffective government programs and law enforcement, neither of which have proven to work. Since the only supplier is government, there is little incentive to provide an alternative. Even if one desires to open a drug rehab or invent safer alternatives, the incomprehensible state and federal regulation make it nearly impossible, let alone economical. Economists called this a high barrier to entry.
By treating excises as public health issues, the free market can offer a wide range of options to mitigate their social cost – none of which involve extorting one party for money in order to imprison another. The Truth Campaign is an infamous group that fights to raise awareness and reduce smoking. There are multiple quitting hotlines and services – many of which are free. Easy to consume gums and patches are readily available for smokers to quit and do not possess the deadly side effects of methadone. In our modern times, technology has helped kick the habit with the introduction of electronic cigarettes. Free individuals have done more to reduce smoking than any bureaucrat.
Prohibition creates a major barrier to entry for an important resource: rehab clinics. With the exception of high-priced private rehabs, the government has deemed itself a monopoly on drug rehabilitation. There are two main forms of government rehab: 1) Court ordered rehab or 2) the prison system. One could write books on how the latter has been a failure for rehabilitation. I want to focus on the former.
Court ordered rehab is an atrocious idea destined for failure. For one, the defendant has zero say in which rehab facility they will attend or if they even want to attend rehab. I don’t think forcing people to go somewhere they don’t want to be will actually help them. The war on drugs has led to the hoarding of offenders to clinics without considering if they actually need or want it. As a result, clinics become overburdened with “demand” and must apply ineffective techniques to all its patients in order to maintain throughput. They end up treating low-risk weekend warriors in the same building as lifelong heroin users. Both have much different needs, yet they end up in the same place.
Although overall violent crime is down, there are many communities, such as in Chicago and Detroit, where drug-distribution violence runs rampant. Despite political promises and increased funding, little can be done to remove this violence from communities because the communities themselves are powerless. In the legal market, consumers, employees, and communities can engage in various forms of protest against a private firm. However, attempting to use the same methods against MS-13 (a violent street gang) will likely get everyone killed – forget spurring social change. Thus, if a community wants to remove a drug dealer, their only option is for the police to arrest them, which could be a long shot. Even if the dealer is successfully removed, there is a good chance another one takes over.
The failure of drug prohibition does not end with the inherent problem of enforcement. Government has deemed itself the only entity capable of managing drug use. As a result, the mediums for mitigating drug use are underdeveloped, inefficient, and even useless. Communities are left powerless to violent gangs occupying their neighborhood. Rehab clinics and prisons have become revolving doors that fail to produce actual rehabilitation. Drug prohibition has restricted the market from offering viable solutions to drug use. The very policy directed at drug use has made it virtually impossible to effectively help those who need it the most.