Drug Legalization-A New Kind of Drug War

According to the article A New Kind of Drug War, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/feb2005/nf20050228_1996_db013.htm,
our current approach at handling the illegalization of drugs has a very dismal return on profit. Federal, state, and local governments have put some $33 billion in resources toward prosecuting the war on drugs in recent years, but what has been the return on that $33 billion-not very much at all. A big majority of crime and corruption come from the illegal drug trade flourish. U.S. prisons are crowded with drug-law offenders -- more than 54% of federal prisoners sentenced in 2004 were sent away for breaking drug laws. So, that leaves us with the question of whether legalizing drugs and very heavily taxing them would benefit us in the long run?
Just for a comparison, the heavier taxing of alcohol and cigarettes has had a decrease in the usage of them. Would this be the same for drugs? I don't have a strong stand either way on this matter because I can see it from both sides. First, to legalize certain drugs, the number of users may increase and it would be that much easier to get ones hands on. But, as far as receiving any benefit from drugs, the legalization would provide a huge amount of tax money. It's hard to say though because those who already do drugs probably will continue to do so and they may be able to get it other places without having to pay the taxes. So by legalizing it, we may create more users and receive some benefit from it.
So you tell me, do the benefits of legalizing drugs outway the costs of doing so? Are the risks worth taking?


C-Dizzle said...

I think this can be a very touchy topic for some. I personally am not strong either way with this argument.

I guess the trade-off that decision makers would have to make about legalizing some drugs is how many lives should pay the price for a certain benefit to society. If some drugs are legalized, I think initially there will be a spike on the usage of them. Eventually, the hype will most likely slow down. Meanwhile, the government can tax all sales of these drugs making the politicians happy.

What I don’t know about is drug related deaths associated with certain types of drugs that may be legalized. If for instance 40% of car accidents were related to a particularly abused substance, I’d say no to legalizing it.

As for the people in jail for drug offenses, I recently heard that when a person is in jail for a drug offense, usually the drug offense is the lesser of the charges that the inmate has. I think our jails would probably be packed whether or not drugs are legalized.

Diane said...

Applying a heavy tax to legalized drugs might decrease useage as it has with cigarettes and alcohol. This would decrease prosecution expenses. Then again, widespread availability might increase costs associated with usage such as healthcare and car insurance. I don't think there is a solution. Do we have enough data to support illegalization if we've never tried legalizing it. Is drug useage legal in any country? If it is we should learn from their benefits and costs.

BOB said...

The author's statement implying little results from the drug war is a little shady. What proof is there that the effort is not having a large effect? Claims were also made stating that alcohol and tabacco usage is going down, but yet society still loses thousands of lives every year due to misuse. Legalization is not the answer; tougher penalties are.

sam said...

I agree with bob. Trying to implement a tax on these drugs is ridiculous. If the drugs are already available on the black market and are flourishing, then why would someone purchase it from a store that is going to add a tax to make it more expensive? What we need is harsher penalties.

As Meg mentioned the drug offense is the lesser of the charges being placed on inmates. However, could it be that those mind-altering drugs influenced the other behavoir?

I am strongly against the legalization of drugs. I also know that I am one of the few. There is a increase in leaning towards this "toleration" idea. If drugs ever do become legalized, there should be specific areas designated for their use. These areas should also be monitored. I do not want to inhale the second-hand smoke, nor do I want to be a victim of a mind-less act.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Stockton's post for a poorly formatted link.

I have two points about legalization. But before I start I'd like to point out the sharp argument made in Diane's comment about the data that we have. Go read it!

First, it will not change usage much. This is because the (economic) problems that drug abuse creates for a society derive from inelastic demand. By definition, inelastic demand isn't very responsive to things like legalization.

Second, we will not collect much tax revenue from drug legalization. Currently, we tax drugs very heavily - you just have to pay with your free time in the future. How much would people pay to avoid jail on drug charges? My guess is quite a lot. We can expect they would be willing to pay an equivalent amount in taxes if drugs were legal. But here's the rub: if we change from taxing people time to taxing them money, we won't change much about the situation. So any reasonable approach to drug legalization has got to recognize that we are already severly taxing drug abuse, and that is part of what isn't working. So, we'll have to change that too.

As to Bob and Sam's comments, I would like them to make a distinction about whether they want demanders, suppliers or both to pay higher penalites. Again, because of inelastic demand, the most effetive penalties will be on buyers. So how much do you want to punish the people around you who use drugs? Maybe the answer is a lot; I just think you need to recognize that effective penalties are going to require being very judgemental about people who are probably sitting close to you in class.