Thursday, July 30, 2009

The cost is prohibitive

Further to my post of a few days ago, I see that the ASI Blog has a comment by Tom Clougherty on a Transform paper—a cost-benefit analysis of drug prohibition [PDF].
The report finds that the total cost of prohibition of heroin and cocaine (the calculations focus solely on these two 'hard' drugs, since this is where the most extensive data is available) is £16.8bn per annum.

The benefits of prohibition depend on the extent to which prohibition decreases heroin and cocaine use – something for which there are no authoritative figures – and therefore reduces its health, social and economic costs. Depending on your assumptions here (the paper details four different scenarios), the estimated 'benefits' of prohibition range from £618m to –£309m.

This means that the total net cost of prohibition is somewhere between £16.2bn and £17.1bn.

The authors go on to compare this with a regulated legalization model under which heroin and cocaine would be freely available to buy from licensed pharmacies, with 10 percent of users (those with the most serious addiction problems) receiving diamorphine and cocaine by medical prescription. Depending on whether you assume that opiate and crack cocaine use would (a) go down by 50 percent, (b) stay the same, (c) go up by 50 percent, or (d) go up by 100 percent, the net cost of legalized heroin and cocaine under this model would be £3.2bn, £6bn, £8.8bn, or £11.6bn.

To put it another way, if opiate and crack use fell by 50 percent, we would save £14bn. If it didn't change, we would save £11bn. If it rose by 50 percent, we would save £8bn. And even if opiate and crack use doubled, we would still save £5bn, according to the authors' calculations. It is worth noting that this does not include any potential tax revenue that would be generated by drug legalization – something the authors believe would be small anyway, since drugs would be so much cheaper if the 'illegality premium' were removed.

As Tom points out, isn't it time that we have a mature debate about drugs in this country? The simple fact is that drug prohibition has massive economic and social costs that completely outweigh any benefits—in fact, I cannot really see that there are any benefits apart from politicians being able to pander to the superstitious ignorance of Daily Mail readers.

UPDATE: Obnoxio has picked this up too.
So let's say we decriminalise drugs and provide it free on prescription to anyone who can't afford to buy it, then: we save £10billion a year; petty crime falls because druggies aren't stealing or mugging to feed their habit; police resources are freed up to combat other crime; the tax take goes up very slightly; we engage in free trade with the Afghans and cut the Taleban off at the knees and finally we get ready access to a scarce natural resource.

So ... why are we still fighting the drug war?

The answer lies in two parts—bigotry and ignorance.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

The current system does seem like madness when drugs are legal in all but name anyway (drop me off in any town of a population of 10k or more souls and I'll have any popular street drug you want in less than an hour).

Prohibition gives police an excuse to lock people up they disapprove of for whatever reason. Other than that I can't think of one positive reason for current system.

Was an interesting episode of The Wire (Season 4 if memory serves) where a police commissioner set up a liberalised drug zone where he promised the police wouldn't interfere as long as the junkies contained themselves to that area. Made for good viewing (but then all 5 seasons did)

Anonymous said...

So ... why are we still fighting the drug war?
The answer lies in two parts—bigotry and ignorance.

Nope. We're fighting it because the Americans - to whose sphincter your lips are permanently attached - tell us to fight it.

No British government - in fact, no government of any country - could ever legalise narcotics because the Americans would go insanse and impose all manner of sanctions. Indeed, the Americans have repeatedly said as much.

I'm afraid you're stuck with the prohibition of drugs until such times as you can get the Middle America you love so much to pull their heads out of their rectums and Bibles and apply some of the libertarian ideals they claim to support. So long as housewives in Kansas are running around shrieking "WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!!?!" while having nightmares of dusky brown men selling crack cocaine to blond-haired blue-eyed preteens, you will never end drug prohibition.

Budgie said...

One of the oddest phenomena I have seen recently is otherwise sane free marketeers perversely believing that making ('recreational') drugs much cheaper and completely freely available will reduce consumption, or only increase consumption by "100 per cent".

Nick said...

The way to police drugs is actually quite simple. You operate it as a reverse pyramid.

1. Round up drug users. 5 years in jail for using, reduced to 1 for successful prosecution of their dealer.

If you get enough users, you have enough evidence to convict the next layer above.

2. Drug dealers. 15 years in jail reduced to 3, for a succesful prosecution of the next layer up the heirachy.

3. Trafficers, life in jail with no parole, unless others are convicted.

Then the time in jail for the users, is somewhere where drugs are not available. I suggest a Scottish island, where you have to live in tents. Drug free, on the basics.

If the reoffend, restart the process.

Anonymous said...

USA are using a system very similar to yours Nick (except they live in tent villages in prisons rather than on Scottish Islands).

They have refined it a little by using a '3 strikes' system but in essence it's pretty much as Draconian as yours.

Not sure I'd class it as an outstanding success though. Unsure as to how the British prison system would cope with another x million+ inmates either, might find it a bit of a struggle.

Re. Budgie - take a look at Holland and their drug usage problem then come back and tell us if them having more liberal laws has adversely affected them. Easy to say 'what if' this and 'market forces' that but probably best to take an empirical example.

John B said...

No British government - in fact, no government of any country - could ever legalise narcotics because the Americans would go insanse and impose all manner of sanctions. Indeed, the Americans have repeatedly said as much.

Err, Portugal? link. Full-on sold-in-shops legalisation might cause international issues, but I don't see the USAF bombing Lisbon...

@Nick, yes, at enormous financial expense and human suffering, the measures you outline would probably reduce drug use. Why do you think that would be a good use of my tax money exactly?

Anonymous said...

@ John B

Decriminalisation of possession is not the same thing - and, indeed, not even close to the same thing - as full legalisation. Unless you are not very bright, this should be abundantly clear.

You would have to have completely ignored US drug policy since the early 1980s to make statements of such breathtaking naivety. If you really are as uninformed about American drug policy as you appear, there's really not much point in my talking to you.

The Nameless Libertarian said...

We are still fighting the drugs war because The Daily Mail sees drugs as evil. And, oddly enough, The Daily Mail is where Nick @ 01:10pm seems to have got his drugs "policy".

Tomrat said...

Anon 12:44,

Agree totally with your point; not to mention that there are shaddier parts of the federal government that make Billions from the illegal sale of drugs - it is a portrayal of the classic Bootleggers and Baptists paradigm; make something criminal to have and only criminals will have it; as a bible-bashing Christian that just doesn't salve my conscience one bit.

One thing I disagree on in your example is Holland (presume thats also you); this is not a good indication of how to conduct the law, where something is illegal, but you effectively "ignore" its use. If you have a rule you should stick by it, if its proven a bad rule you repeal or revise it. We need to be honest and say that whilst drugs can be an immensely destructive thing perhaps the main component of its destructive power is the fact that it is in the hands of such destructive people and because it is such a money spinner.

Legalise it, regulate it (make it illegal to sell without a licence and watch a floundering pharmaceutical market become re-energised and choke the black market over-pricing and watch countries blacklisted, impoverished and in the hands of terrorists become economic powerhouses.

@ Nick,

If your that interested in pyramid schemes I have one that is a guaranteed investment scheme; I know this because a Nigerian prince told me about it online, and who doesn't trust royalty?

Anonymous said...

"...get the Middle America you love so much to pull their heads out of their rectums and Bibles..." And most democratic politicians as well. There are more than 2 reasons. We have established a whole "war on drugs/industrial complex" that grows every year and increases the power of those who run it. More government jobs=more power.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the point of making drugs free on prescription is not to reduce consumption (as per Budgie's comment) but to destroy the market by knocking down the price and thereby making it a less profitable (i.e. attractive) field of activity for the criminal fraternity. Reducing consumption can be handled by other means later (cf government policy regarding tobacco).

It's still politically difficult though without international agreement (and not just with the Americans).

The Young Oligarch said...

I agree with Nick , although my version involves more bullets , bayonets and the tents will be on West Falkland . In winter . They can sleep in the open the rest of the year .

Budgie said...

Anon 1:22 said: "Easy to say 'what if' this and 'market forces' that but probably best to take an empirical example."

Yes, why don't you?

The free market works every time. There are examples in front of your nose. Reduce the price and consumption increases. Reduce the price drastically and consumption soars. Why should drugs be an exception?

ENGLISHMAN said...

So, there are large numbers of people who loathe themselves,and accept a delusion that they can alter thier desperate lonliness by ingesting narcotics of various descriptions,in order to relate to others and society at large,and the suggestion is that these people are stable and in control of themselves,and thier delusions should be given full rein,so that society at large can save some money?
Desires can never be satisfied,they meerly increase the craving for things that are unobtainable and plunge one deeper into the vicious cycle,are drunks happy when they are not drunk?is a meaningfull conversation possible with someone who has only a false impression of himself,of who he wishes to be,and can only feel comfortable with himself while incapable of coherent speech and is unable to stand ?Narcotics and all of the other crutches that support a frightened isolated pathetic human being are in the same category as the drunk,there simply is not room for multiple personalities to inhabit the same mental space ,if one wishes to have any kind of civilised society.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"Nope. We're fighting it because the Americans - to whose sphincter your lips are permanently attached - tell us to fight it."

I'm arse-kissing the Americans? I'm sorry, but could you show me where?

Is it in this post, where I point out that the US prosecuted the "stupid" war on drugs "against all expert advice, used bribery, blackmail and puritan heckling to drive the international effort to ban all drugs"?

No. Oh well.

"So, there are large numbers of people who loathe themselves,and accept a delusion that they can alter thier desperate lonliness by ingesting narcotics of various descriptions,in order to relate to others and society at large ... [snipped for boredom] ... society."

See? Ignorance and bigotry.

DK

Ian B said...

Anonymous is absolutely right about America. It's the centre of prohibitionism- drugs, alchohol, tobacco. It's the nut that has to be cracked.

Drug prohibition was the big "success" of the Progressive Era. Their intended crowning glory- alcohol prohibition- collapsed of course. But they'd got narcotics under their thumb, and that remained, and they pursued it dogmatically when alcohol was out of reach and tobacco was on the slowboat to prohibition (testing a new strategy). Why America? They're the centre of the anglosphere, and the anglosphere is characterised by a puritanical morality. This is largely what progressivism is; a moral code enforced by state power.

American prohibitonists have used american diplomatic and economic muscle to force drug prohibition on the rest of the world. They have imposed near-prohibition of tobacco the same way. Now they're after alcohol again (they're not going to leave the world's most popular drug alone now, are they?) They key being the switch from a purely moral/social argument to subversion of the entire international medical apparat, which took them the better part of the twentieth century to achieve.

Why? They're puritans. The puritan homeland of Britain is Scotland of course- the dour presybyterians snatching beers out of your hands, which is why NewLab (scots methodists) are so keen and why most of the drivers of prohibitionism over here are called Angus McMiserable or whatever.

But America is the centre. It's their progressive/temperance movement at the heart of all these woes. They are the world centre of progressivism, and the worldwide Scare Machine. Because progressivism is historically derived from puritanical (pietist/methodist/quaker etc) Christianity, and there ain't nobody so religious as them Yanks.

Land of the free? The land of the free that banned beer. What a fucking joke.

John B said...

Anonymous @ 03:04:00 PM, go and fuck yourself. It's clear that Portugal's regime is an order of magnitude than anything we currently have, and that it hasn't provoked any major international incidents. So we know we could do that, which would be a massive improvement on current UK policy, if our politicians weren't spinelessly craven towards domestic puritan groups. The fact that we haven't done that is very strong evidence that fear of the US reaction is *not* the key driver behind UK drug policy.

So, there are large numbers of people who loathe themselves,and accept a delusion that they can alter thier desperate lonliness by ingesting narcotics of various descriptions,in order to relate to others and society at large,and the suggestion is that these people are stable and in control of themselves,and thier delusions should be given full rein,so that society at large can save some money?

Let's assume you're right that all drugs are bad in the way you describe. You aren't, but let's assume you are for the sake of the argument.

If a drug addict's delusions are so extreme that they are unable to respect other people's rights, then they should be given an appropriate combination of punishment and therapy. Let's say, for argument's sake, we go for 'draconian punishment' as the option. Fine, OK.

But if they merely go through life in a chemical haze without beating anyone, robbing anyone, etc - like most drug addicts even in today's society - what moral or financial case is there to use draconian methods to stop them? Do you really feel that by existing, high, and not doing anyone else any harm, they are destroying society with their mere presence?

(capcha: 'adoph'. add an L and you reach the natural endpoint of prohibitionist 'people must be made to live the way I think they should for the good of Society' logic)

manfromthefuture said...

No you’re all wrong, its nothing to do with the Americans or anyone else. It’s because they like it. They like to make up more and more thinks that are “not allowed”.

Every time they get some new thing banned that people like doing, they jump up and down and rub their hands in glee. It’s the mentality you see.

If you go back, most of the drugs illegal today were legal at some point, slowly becoming illegal. Just like we’re seeing smoking and drinking nowadays. Pretty soon these will be banned, then it’ll be foods you like (eg chocolate), then sex, eating pies and laughing will all go. See someone laughing, he must be a terrorist! Set the Stasi bully boys to beat him up and confiscate all his belongings.

After that, work will seem desirable. Can’t have people having any fun otherwise they might realise the shear misery of work and stop doing so.

The Young Oligarch said...

Those of a sensitive disposition should please disregard the following outburst .

Before NuLabour and their druggie cohorts came to power , I was continually astounded and warmed , on returning to my native Lanarkshire, by the fellow-feeling and shared humanity of the people .

Strangers greeted each other in the street . The pub was a sanctuary from worry and a meeting place for men of disparate ideas .

Now druggie criminal scum rule the roost . The same people who were formerly so outgoing are now introverted and cast down their gaze to avoid the unpunished wrath of the drugged-up filth who infest our society .

FUCK YOUR DISGUSTING , FILTHY HABIT !!!

The people of Britain know you and hate you .

You are our oppressor - as intended by Blair , Broon and their criminal regime .

Call me Infidel said...

I tend to side with Theodore Dalrymple on this issue.

http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_2_a1.html

Frankly the UK has far too many deabeats already without adding to their number with heroin and crack on demand.

Anonymous said...

They execute drug dalers in Thailand.
Does it solve the problem ?
No.
So all these extreme "flog em", views, are just innane rantings that would not produce results anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I would like suggest an additional reason why drugs prohibtion continues.

Of course it all began with moral panics and bigotry, but there is now effectively a huge industry built around it, which includes law enforcement agencies, drug 'treatment' and 'education' programmes, quasi-governmental 'charities' and so on.

To end prohibition would mean the end of many lucrative careers in these areas. Morever, because the 'war on drugs' is unwinnable, these are very secure jobs.

In sum, while prohibition is a complete failure in its stated terms, it is actually a nice little earner for a large number of people - and that doesn't mean just the drug dealers!

So anyone who wants to end prohibtion will have to be ready to take on these rent seekers.

haddock said...

Libertarian Party voters, assuming Norwich to be representative,
646 constituencies x 36votes = 23,256

Daily Mail readership, May 2009,
5,293,000

tell us all about democracy DK... and why your view should prevail over the 'Daily Mail reader'

Devil's Kitchen said...

haddock,

"tell us all about democracy DK..."

I don't give two shits about democracy, haddock, as you well know. Democracy is simply a tyranny of the majority: it is quite simply oppression.

"and why your view should prevail over the 'Daily Mail reader'"

Because my view is not only right—it is based on evidence rather than bigotry. Because my view makes people more free—whilst the Daily Mail is a Nazi-supporting piece of shit pandering to fascist arseholes who only don't vote for the BNP because they're too working class.

DK

John B said...

Because DK's view is based on logic and evidence, whereas the DM reader view is based on prejudice and idiocy?

That's why British democracy is a representative democracy, with MPs who're less bayingly ignorant than the populace at large defending our freedoms against the tyranny of the majority.

At least, until recently...

John B said...

Haha, great minds, etc...

Devil's Kitchen said...

P.S. Lifetime of the Libertarian Party = 18 months with a budget of a few thousand.

Lifetime of the Daily Mail = 113 years with a budget of tens of millions.

Don't you think that they've had a little more time to seep into the national consciousness?

Freedom is what is important, haddock: legalising drugs doesn't force you to take drugs. Making drugs illegal forces me (in theory) to not to take them.

You, of course, won't see this since you are not a fan of freedom—but you have to acknowledge that that is the position that I am coming from.

At the very least, you should be happy that legalisation would mean that you save tax money.

DK

haddock said...

legalisation would mean that you save tax money. ..... ?

the figures quoted seem to be straight from The Mail.... the writer Keith Waterhouse's "The National Guesswork Authority"

Devil's Kitchen said...

haddock,

"legalisation would mean that you save tax money. ..... ?"

Yes—you’d save a fuck load on police for starters.

"the figures quoted seem to be straight from The Mail.... the writer Keith Waterhouse's "The National Guesswork Authority""

Except that they aren't: they are from a paper produced by Transform.

Or do you—in fact—have better figures? Do you, in fact, have any figures whatso-fucking-ever? Well?

I mean, having lost the argument you are now resorting to "I know that you have evidence but I don't believe your figures" argument?

Seriously, that is pathetic.

DK

Council House Tory said...

I live in Peckham. This place has kids killing, robbing and wounding each other on a daily basis. It also has a massive police station right in the middle of it. Yet you would struggle to see one on any of the estates here and most of Peckham is one big estate.

Except for the plain clothed cops outside my door, who use the balcony as a viewing point to watch the Drug dealer across the road. This is a daily duty for the police here and I recognise most of them now.

Yet kids are still killing each other. It's a question of priorities and you have to wonder what the Police's priorities are.

Ian B said...

Prohibition begets black markets, and black markets beget violence. Prohibitionists don't care how much mayhem is a consequence, as they hold resolutely the irrational belief that making a law against something is the same as stopping it happening. Because they're fuckwits.

Umbongo said...

In a nutshell - prohibition has failed in drugs as it did in alcohol. I would be interested to be directed to any refutation of that. Further, as one commenter noted, Thailand executes drug dealers which has not resulted in an end to the drugs industry so I think it can be assumed that draconian laws (even if enforced) do not succeed: I suspect that draconian laws actually push up the price of drugs rather than cut off their supply.

At present the illegal drugs business in the UK causes damage to the users themselves and to the wider society by the encouragement of criminality (including the potential or actual corruption of those enforcing the law) through the existence of huge profits available in the illegal trade. Legalisation of drugs and the availability of drugs through the state would not lessen the damage caused to the druggies but would remove the concomitant profits and, thereby, lessen the rampant criminality. Getting the druggies off drugs (or discouraging them from going on them in the first place) is another problem. It is not a problem that is best dealt with by the police.

Anonymous said...

"I agree with Nick , although my version involves more bullets , bayonets and the tents will be on West Falkland . In winter . They can sleep in the open the rest of the year "

You have to be joking not to see the irony of ranting about drug using scum whilst having a picture of a pint of beer as your icon.

Not even heroin withdrawl symptoms can kill.

I'd like to see someone run down a kid whilst driving on heroin.

It's the prickish 'conservatives' who whine about the nanny-state in one instance but the moment drugs come up, the fags drop out their mouths and they slam their beers on the table in shock and rage.

cunts

Anonymous said...

The problem with the drug using scum argument, which is really an ill informed ignorant thing to say.
Why?
Because the criminal element amongst drug users is a minority.
The majority of drug users are law abiding in every respect apart from the fact that drugs are illegal.
True .
And if the statistic of 1000000 cocaine users is true,that's a lobby now lol.

neil craig said...

3 parts. If government is expanding they have to find something for government employees to do - whether it be smoking inspectors, the Health & Safety Executive or drug police. The rule of thumb is the for every pound spent employing such their regulations destroy £20 from the economy.