Should we bring back “Just Say No” and ramp up the drug war, especially as more states decriminalize recreational marijuana use?
As I have written before, drug prohibition is (literally) “a textbook example of a policy with negative unintended consequences” most visible in the extensive criminal underground and widespread violence associated with prohibition. What can we expect from legalization, and what could we expect from further liberalization of drug laws?
1. Less Crime. Moving drug cultivation and commerce out of the shadows and into the legitimate marketplace will mean that participants in the market can resolve their disputes without resorting to violence. This will also deal a blow to international drug gangs by raising the supply of marijuana from competitors and by lowering its price. Since the demand curve for drugs is fairly inelastic—and I see no reason to think marijuana is an exception—this will reduce drug dealer revenue.
2. Lower Demand for Hard Drugs Like Crack and Crystal Meth. At the margin, marijuana is a substitute for drugs like crack and meth. With lower prices and a much lower probability of prosecution associated with its use, I expect some drug users will switch to marijuana. Over the long run, I expect marijuana legalization to reduce the demand for harder drugs.
3. A “Peace Dividend” From Scaling Back the Drug War. Scaling back the drug war frees up resources for more productive pursuits. Instead of busting pot smokers, Colorado and Washington cops can spend their time and energy fighting violent crime and fraud. Washington and Colorado residents who otherwise would have rotted in jail for a few years can go about their productive lives. Resources invested in avoiding detection can be redeployed toward more productive pursuits. You might finally be able to use the towel under your door for its intended purpose. The ball is in President Obama’s court on this one: I hope he respects the wishes of Colorado and Washington voters.