Why listen to me? - Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman offers the most devastating slap-downs of the war on drugs ever written.
He once told Bill Bennett, Bush Senior’s drugs tsar, you are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. Your mistake is failing to recognise that the very measures you favour are a major source of the evils you deplore.
Friedman proved, for example, that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people use stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market. During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer; during drug prohibition, crack is eclipsing coke. He called his rule explaining this curious historical fact the Iron Law of Prohibition: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.
Why? If you run a bootleg bar in prohibition era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale, or you can make a gallon of pucheen, which is so strong it takes 30 people to drink it and constitutes 30 sales. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the stronger, more harmful drink. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.
For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. Legalize. Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering $20 billion on enforcing prohibition that could be spent on prescription and rehab, only exacerbates the problem. Drugs are a tragedy for addicts, he said. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike.
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