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Dope wars for policy wonks
December 29, 2007 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Historically, drug laws have been a reactive response to a moral panic. Increasingly though, some governments are now seeking a more rational basis for drug policy. For the first time ever, all interested parties have been invited to get involved in the creation of the UK's next ten year drug strategy though many senior government advisors have been openly critical of some of the premises.

Ultimately, arguments about drug policy often boil down to arguments about personal values, and the extent to which individual liberty trumps the collective good. For a long time though, we passed laws based on hypothetical future scenarios that may or may not have been sustainable by the data.

One tool for making rational decisions about drug policy is modelling. In the past, this tended to be limited to policy wonks working in government departments, academia or think tanks. However, the Drug Policy Modelling Programme at the University of New South Wales have published their modelling tools and methods on their website.

Now you too can download SimDrug and test your own assumptions about what would happen with illicit drug markets if YOU were drug czar.
posted by PeterMcDermott (57 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
all interested parties

So will Pete Dougherty will be there in person, or will he be sending his attorney? Seriously, I doubt "all interested parties" are going to be involved. I mean who's gonna speak FOR the hard-core junkies and say "fuck you" to the collectivists and their "collective good"? The "collective good" is justification for all sorts of evils from torture to war. Enough is enough. Leagalize it all.
posted by three blind mice at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think they should express concern about the high potency varieties of alcohol available, with interesting street names like "single malt Scotch whisky." These varieties are commonly eight times as strong as normal beer!
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:48 AM on December 29, 2007 [7 favorites]


My ten year strategy to get drugs off the street is to personally consume more of them. More for me = less for society = win/win!
posted by you just lost the game at 10:53 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I mean who's gonna speak FOR the hard-core junkies and say "fuck you" to the collectivists and their "collective good"?

You mean their collectivist distribution chain won't speak for them?
posted by Brian B. at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2007


I wonder what percentage of British politicians are former pot smokers these days? Probably something close to all of them.
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on December 29, 2007


It isn't individual liberty v. the collective good. The collective good is hurt by drug prohibition. If we could wish drug use away maybe that would help the collective good. Maybe. But you need to spend money and use violence to keep people from doing drugs. Those things both hurt the collective good. The argument that we need life ruining penalties for drug use so that people don't run the risk of ruining their lives by using drugs is one of the most obviously idiotic ideas I have ever heard. The best and only reason not to use drugs ought to be the drugs themselves.
posted by I Foody at 11:20 AM on December 29, 2007


Which isn't a very good reason.
posted by 999 at 11:33 AM on December 29, 2007


The argument that we need life ruining penalties for drug use so that people don't run the risk of ruining their lives by using drugs is one of the most obviously idiotic ideas I have ever heard.

Tell the conservatives. The standard demand-side (aka liberal) argument is that we need treatment on demand as a way to disourage demand, locking up the suppliers as a way to discourage supply. But then there are the Republicans and libertarians who hate government treatment centers more than jails, which exposes their other drug arguments as lobbying.
posted by Brian B. at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2007


Has the Libertarian focus on defining liberty mainly as maximal freedom from taxation gone so far that they're not even for legalization anymore?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2007


I haven't bothered downloading SimDrug - from the description, and the inclusion of "constables" and lack of "tax collectors" in there, I doubt "complete legalisation and taxation instead" is part of the options to try.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2007


I'm not sure "legalize all" is any more thoughtful of a policy than "legalize none."

A drug addict, in many cases, becomes a public health problem. The addict's behavior begins to negatively affect his family, friends, colleagues, and community in addition to himself. Government intervention is justified, even for those who prefer a smaller government, because society as a whole would be better off if the addict were freed from his addiction, and no non-government actor is in a position to make it happen.

If government ought to be in the business of treating addicts, though, it's not clear to me why it shouldn't be in the business of preventing addicts from becoming addicted in the first place. There are several tools to accomplish this, but prohibition is surely one of them.

Prohibition certainly isn't a panacea, and it creates its own problems, but I don't see why it should be completely removed from consideration as a tool for mitigating the social ills caused by drugs.

I think taking a moral view on prohibition, in either direction, constrains our ability to manage the harms caused by drugs (and by our response to drugs).
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 12:55 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


My argument is more akin to the lafer curve. Just as there exists a space where because of the costs of taxation itself we can raise revenues by lowering taxes there is a space where because of the costs of prohibition we can increase welfare by allowing welfare reducing activities. While I don't think we are actually operating in a space where we could lower taxes and increase revenue, I do think we are operating in such a space with regard to drug prohibition.
posted by I Foody at 1:11 PM on December 29, 2007


The economies of drug are well understood , prohibitionism doesn't work when one cannot take physical control of ALL productions at ANY time, while working against _desire_ to obtain a drug.

Reframing the problem and calling addictive habits an "health problem" seems to be a step toward the right direction, but apparently it just moves toward the industralization of drug production.
In 2002, 8.5 percent of the 288.2 million persons in the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population purchased at least one antidepressant prescribed medicine
That's a relatively huge market, of particularly stable demand over time ! Not mentioning the market for alcohol, a depressant, which may be used as self-medication because , by depressing (slowing down) the nervous system, helps the anxious person feel less anxious or more relaxed, but at an huge hidden cost and often mounting price.

I think the money spent over the war on drugs could be more productively spent over understanding how to ease these behavioral / physical problems , without creating a new level of statalized/privatized dependence. Yet many see in drugs "the ideal product" as it requires almost zero advertising (see cigarettes, still sold regardless of advertising bans) and the customer _comes to you_ and doesn't feel obliged to buy. It's the salesman nightmare, because this product doens't require any persuasion or suggestion, it's a producer dream becuase there is no need for advertising and sales and customers rarely complain, it's a taxman dream as well, as much as fuel is.

I don't expect private/state to look after reducing the demand for addictive behaviors, at best an attempt to reduce what may damage them, but so as long as they can't "flee to china".
posted by elpapacito at 1:20 PM on December 29, 2007


Well, the Laffer curve is based on the observation that an income tax reduces people's incentive to engage in income-producing activities, thus potentially reducing tax revenue if the income tax is too high. I don't think there is anything directly analogous in the area of drug prohibition, unless strict prohibition actually tends to encourage people to use drugs, and that's quite counterintuitive. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it's not at all clear to me.

In any event, I think I agree with your overall point, which I understand to be that prohibition incurs its own social costs which may very well exceed the social costs avoided by reduced drug consumption. This is why I'm opposed to making a moral issue out of prohibition.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 1:28 PM on December 29, 2007


The economies of drug are well understood , prohibitionism doesn't work when one cannot take physical control of ALL productions at ANY time, while working against _desire_ to obtain a drug.

I suppose it depends on what counts as "working." If you don't consider prohibition to be working unless drug use is eradicated entirely, I agree with you. However, I consider prohibition to be working if the social cost of drug use plus the cost of prohibition is less than the cost of drug use without prohibition.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 1:32 PM on December 29, 2007


If government ought to be in the business of treating addicts, though, it's not clear to me why it shouldn't be in the business of preventing addicts from becoming addicted in the first place. There are several tools to accomplish this, but prohibition is surely one of them.

By that logic, you could argue that the government has an a right to prevent people from eating fatty foods or smoking cigarettes. After all, if the government has the right to regulate drug use to save money, then it should have the right to restrict all activities that might cost money.

That's not something I believe, but even in that hyperauthoritarian framework, the only rational way to figure costs is to measure things by their actual social cost. I'm sure that junk food causes far more social costs then drugs. Alcohol and cigarettes also create huge social costs. And furthermore, you need to calculate the social cost of prohibition, since you have drug addicts either way, you might have less, but the individual cost is higher, as is the enforcement cost.

A more sensible policy would be to help individuals manage their addictions, since there isn't really any reason why a drug addict who's addiction is under control and doesn't have to find illicit sources of their drugs can't be a productive member of society.

But lets be clear here, prohibition of drugs was never about balancing costs. It was all about hatred for people who use drugs.
posted by delmoi at 1:34 PM on December 29, 2007


After all, if the government has the right to regulate drug use to save money, then it should have the right to restrict all activities that might cost money.

I don't know where this came from. I don't think viewing the issue simply as "saving money" is particularly helpful.

I'm sure that junk food causes far more social costs then drugs. Alcohol and cigarettes also create huge social costs.

I don't think I agree with you with respect to junk food and cigarettes. Both of these mostly cause relatively late-life health problems, which is unfortunate for the afflicted individuals and their families, but not necessarily an onerous social cost.

And furthermore, you need to calculate the social cost of prohibition, since you have drug addicts either way, you might have less, but the individual cost is higher, as is the enforcement cost.

Yes, this is precisely what I've been saying.

But lets be clear here, prohibition of drugs was never about balancing costs. It was all about hatred for people who use drugs.

Perhaps, but this is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether prohibition can be a useful tool going forward.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 1:49 PM on December 29, 2007


My argument is more akin to the lafer curve. Just as there exists a space where because of the costs of taxation itself we can raise revenues by lowering taxes

The Laffer curve is meaningless under a progressive tax. If the higher marginal rate of the last dollar earned prompted a taxpayer to underreport their income by a notch, they would still pay the next lower rate, but on less money. There is no way to capture this lost tax revenue by just lowering the tax across the board or by flattening it for everyone. The psychology of tax cheating lends itself to a progressive tax argument, not a flat one.
posted by Brian B. at 2:23 PM on December 29, 2007


By that logic, you could argue that the government has an a right to prevent people from eating fatty foods or smoking cigarettes.

Smoking and fatty foods are not protected activities in the US. Nor is any democratic government required to recognize any privilege per se. If fatty foods were linked to a terrorist plot we could ban them, and we would probably ban smoking if it were all imported from Cuba.
posted by Brian B. at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2007


The Laffer curve is meaningless under a progressive tax. If the higher marginal rate of the last dollar earned prompted a taxpayer to underreport their income by a notch, they would still pay the next lower rate, but on less money.

As a universal statement, this is surely wrong.

Imagine a progressive tax with rates of 15% for the first $10,000, 25% for the next $20,000, and 100% for all income over $30,000.

Obviously no one is going to report income over $30,000, because (if they are the cheating sort) they'll lie on their return or (if they are not) they'll just decline to earn more than $30,000. Reduce that 100% to 40%, and many more people will be willing to pay it, and tax revenue will increase.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 2:47 PM on December 29, 2007


A drug addict, in many cases, becomes a public health problem. The addict's behavior begins to negatively affect his family, friends, colleagues, and community in addition to himself. Government intervention is justified, even for those who prefer a smaller government, because society as a whole would be better off if the addict were freed from his addiction, and no non-government actor is in a position to make it happen.

Maybe the laws should just go to the extreme other end. If you get caught with heroin, they just give you a few pounds of it. The problem would work itself out rather quickly I think.
posted by Mr_Zero at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2007


I don't think I agree with you with respect to junk food and cigarettes. Both of these mostly cause relatively late-life health problems, which is unfortunate for the afflicted individuals and their families, but not necessarily an onerous social cost.

No offense, but this is actually a rather obnoxious statement. Here's why, you aren't presenting any real empirical data about actual social cost. You're just making assertions about cost with, again no empirical data.

And it seems absurd. If "late in life" means over 65, then that means everyone pays for it through Medicare. In other countries, every one pays for it through universal health care taxes. And not only that, Americans with Healthcare coverage also pay for it through increased insurance premiums. Healthcare spending, which everyone but the uninsured pay for is through the roof. And a lot of that could be controlled by forcing people to eat right and exercise.

Furthermore, you haven't done anything to show what the actual social costs are of "treating drug addicts" Most of the work done in this area is an attempt to get people off drugs so they can live in a society where drugs are illegal. A good comparison might be the cost in the Netherlands to treat Marijuana addicts. I doubt it's very much, since Marijuana isn't illegal. A better example would be the social costs in the U.S. of treating alcohol or cigarette addiction. So tell me, what are the actual costs? Do you know?

Since you're making an empirical claim, you need empirical data to back it up. Not just arbitrary statements.
posted by delmoi at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2007


Maybe the laws should just go to the extreme other end. If you get caught with heroin, they just give you a few pounds of it. The problem would work itself out rather quickly I think.

I'm not sure which way you're going with that. The problem would be worked out, because the heroin users would have all the heroin they want, not because access to all the heroin they want would lead them all to off themselves.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2007


The Laffer curve is meaningless under a progressive tax. If the higher marginal rate of the last dollar earned prompted a taxpayer to underreport their income by a notch, they would still pay the next lower rate, but on less money.

That's not how it works. If the tax rate is 10% at $50k/year, and 20% between $50k and $100k, and a person makes $75k in income. The first $50k is taxed at 10%, and the remaining $25k is taxed at 20%. So they pay $5k+$5k. If someone makes $50,001, they get taxed $5k+ 20¢

Anyway, the tax stuff is a total derail.
posted by delmoi at 3:04 PM on December 29, 2007


Here's why, you aren't presenting any real empirical data about actual social cost. You're just making assertions about cost with, again no empirical data.

That's true, but you aren't providing any empirical data either, so I don't really feel too bad about it.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2007


I don't think I agree with you with respect to junk food and cigarettes. Both of these mostly cause relatively late-life health problems, which is unfortunate for the afflicted individuals and their families, but not necessarily an onerous social cost.

The biggest problem with this statement, actually, isn't the lack of empirical data it's the part where it ignores that many of the social and health costs from drug use are tied to the very illegality of the drugs. So you're comparing a legal drug with an illegal drug and then saying the legal drug is less harmful because it doesn't have problems caused by illegality.

Well, duh.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2007


"Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys writes "However, I consider prohibition to be working if the social cost of drug use plus the cost of prohibition is less than the cost of drug use without prohibition."

Perhaps I did state incorrectly my point. Simply forbidding something, plain vanilla prohibition, implies that there is an already occurring desire to do/have the forbidden thing. As you noted, sometimes forbidding something suggest some people to try or see why its forbidden..let' say its an advertising effect, maybe marginal but present.

If we just forbid something, without paying much attention to why is the desire acted in the first place, we will see that we will have to enforce the prohibition forever, if it is a recurring desire...and desire for pleasure is built-in in human beings, and desire for brain chemistry altering substance is learned and reinforced by its use, hence the idea of never ever trying any substance. Except that one can keep the lid on the existence of a substance for some time, but eventually it will be discovered again.

So while full prohibition certainly have the effect of removing (lets limit ourselves to substances and not behavior) the drug from the mainstream marketplace, it may not be effective enough to stop the construction of parallel distribution networks black-markets. But lets assume we are looking after a second-best optimum, because as you note absolutes are hardly ever achieved.

If so, its rather easy to enforce mainstream prohibition because, exactly as for cigs and alcohol, under-the-sun business need to make themselves as visible as possible, so they wouldn't last long, provided some routine law enforcement is applied.

It is not that easy to destroy constantly recreating black markets; it also most likely a lot more expensive in almost any unit of measure that runs to my mind. On top of this you may go straight against the desires of these who want to exploit addictions, which are not necessarily only Il Padrino style mafiosi, but also corrupted law enforcement that thrives on side-deals , law-enforcement producers who live on "providing securitaeh" with legitimate means (but questionable returns) , politicans wanting to exploit the call-2-arms to give funds to their own "friends" , legitimate business who sell pain reducing drugs that see many restrictions to their production.

In a word, you have everybody against you, all but the families of the drug abusers, their victims and their families, and the ex-drug abusers who know hell because they saw it.

----

If we measure by "social cost" we have to decide what are the variables and meters. Arguably, we will find cost in something that produces negative effects, such as imprisonment for personal possession of drug, yet we may overlook costs that are less easily perceived , for instance such as the intesive presence of patrolling police, the corruption of police officiers and the consequences of collusion between certain "businessman" and politicians/officials ; for years we turned a blind eye NOT to the cost of the war on drug, but the more interesting ROI ratios (i use ROI just to simplify, its hard to boil down to numbers)

What doesn't seem , to me, to be regularly addressed is the context in which drug abuse can grow ; could it be disillusion ? Could be it be caused by setting up unrealistic but apparently satisfactory expectation of "success" , could it be because psychological counseling isn't the only "weapon" in the battle for self-restrain , or it is not still very effective ?

In a parallel, some people argue that the best way to fight prostitution is to repress the desire , but I argue that it is pretty much useless if not outright dangerous as we are addressing another not-so-entirely-understood desire. I kind of "dream" of the medic prostitute, the woman / man who is able to address the issues that bring a man/woman to seek relief INSIDE a business relationship _systematically_ . Similarly, drugs seem to be a way to systematically cope with "bad moments" in life, but it shouldn't be that way and we know exactly why.
posted by elpapacito at 4:06 PM on December 29, 2007


That's true, but you aren't providing any empirical data either, so I don't really feel too bad about it.

That's because my argument doesn't hinge on the differences between two empirical costs, just that they both have some costs.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 PM on December 29, 2007


Compare: I'm sure that junk food causes far more social costs then drugs

With: That's because my argument doesn't hinge on the differences between two empirical costs, just that they both have some costs.

Try again, delmoi.

The biggest problem with this statement, actually, isn't the lack of empirical data it's the part where it ignores that many of the social and health costs from drug use are tied to the very illegality of the drugs.

No, I don't think I'm ignoring that at all. I think you might just be trotting out your standard lines on this subject and not actually paying any attention to what I've said.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 5:06 PM on December 29, 2007


Reduce that 100% to 40%, and many more people will be willing to pay it, and tax revenue will increase.

Two things here. The revenue increased by raising taxes from the previous bracket in your example (25 to 40%), so the logic holds in the only direction that matters. And, tax isn't voluntary, nor without penalty for cheating, so the 100% point is debatable, because if everyone cheated, it would simple to mop up offenders and make much more revenue, etc. As a rule it is more sound if the graduated increases are uniform.

That's not how it works.

I never attempted to explain how it works.
posted by Brian B. at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2007


i thought it was curious that the effort will be spearheaded by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and that perhaps that's been the whole problem with drug usage & organized crime all along: it's not been a serious effort. after all, the laws, the enforcement, and the 'just say no' campaigns are the brainchildren of suits who, if they ever actually have been around the stuff, have never inhaled. rather like a priest doing marriage counseling: he might be able to spout what's in the book, but there's no practical background in the problem area.

and for what it's worth, i have no empirical data on anything, but i think it's absurd to compare the cost of overindulgence in fast food to narcotic (and other drug) abuse. the financial costs of clogged arteries are undoubtedly mountainous; i can't imagine that begins to compare to the loss of productive, creative citizens who contribute not only to the economy, but to the culture of a society. prior statement focused at true addicts & addiction and not dabblers.
posted by msconduct at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2007


No, I don't think I'm ignoring that at all. I think you might just be trotting out your standard lines on this subject and not actually paying any attention to what I've said.

Well, you quite clearly stated that the health costs of say, cigarettes, don't kick in until later in life and drew a distinction between that and illegal drugs. So it seems to me that whether the health effects of illegal drugs are due to the drugs themselves or are a result of the illegality of those drugs is rather on point, actually.
posted by Justinian at 6:38 PM on December 29, 2007


Justinian: Well, you quite clearly stated that the health costs of say, cigarettes, don't kick in until later in life and drew a distinction between that and illegal drugs.

Look, here's what you said I was ignoring, "many of the social and health costs from drug use are tied to the very illegality of the drugs" (emphasis mine). I have, throughout this entire discussion, repeatedly emphasized that prohibition carries its own costs.

Brian B.: Two things here. The revenue increased by raising taxes from the previous bracket in your example (25 to 40%), so the logic holds in the only direction that matters. And, tax isn't voluntary, nor without penalty for cheating, so the 100% point is debatable, because if everyone cheated, it would simple to mop up offenders and make much more revenue, etc.

What on earth are you talking about? There's nothing debatable about the "100% point." I stipulated that the highest bracket in the first scenario was 100%. Obviously no one would earn/report income in that bracket, so lowering it could only raise revenue.

Do you understand that when a person is in a particular tax bracket, they only pay taxes at that rate on the amount of their income that exceeds that bracket's threshold? They don't pay taxes at that rate on their entire income. I'm sorry, but it sounds like you're missing this point.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 9:13 PM on December 29, 2007


What on earth are you talking about? There's nothing debatable about the "100% point." I stipulated that the highest bracket in the first scenario was 100%. Obviously no one would earn/report income in that bracket, so lowering it could only raise revenue.


Besides penalities, the obscure point you are missing is that 40% is higher than your last bracket, therefore no Laffer effect.
posted by Brian B. at 9:26 PM on December 29, 2007


I'm not sure modeling can have a more than limited relevance when considering drug policy options on the permissive/tolerant side of the spectrum (simple decriminalization, various regulatory systems, laissez-faire legalization..etc). The ecology of drug-use can change dramatically if the social and economic environment change. And barring the Dutch coffeeshops to an extent, there's no close data source to use as a basis for a modeler.

SimDrug uses the 2001 Oz heroin drought as its ruleset, which was an anomalous event within a prohibitionist regime. Consider a couple of its rules:

*Users interact with their environment and other agents. They start by assessing their need looking at their available cash and drug and decide whether they need to commit a crime. They, then, find their usual dealer (or alternatively a new dealer) and buy some drug. They use it at once and might declare an overdose.
*The police station adapts its strategy by reallocating constables on the grid and eventually performing successful crackdowns

Both of the above are an illustration of misplaced factors that tolerant regimes, I assume, wouldn't be dealing with, at least, not like this.
posted by daksya at 9:39 PM on December 29, 2007


No, I don't think I'm ignoring that at all. I think you might just be trotting out your standard lines on this subject and not actually paying any attention to what I've said.

But you haven't actually said anything! So why on earth should we pay attention to it?

And for the record, no I haven't said anything either, other then that your argument is vapid.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 PM on December 29, 2007


Let me try a little allegory to get my point across about what kinds of arguments are valid and which are not.
Imagine two people (Person A and Person B) discussing the construction of an airship. They are trying to decide if they need to buy more cloth.

A says, "We don't need to buy any more cloth, we have enough to lift the airship."

B replies "But we don't know how much the entire thing will weigh. Without knowing that, we can't know if we need more cloth or not"

But A is ready for this. He says "Look, you don't know the whole thing weighs either, so you're not making a valid argument, and I'm right!"
There is a fundamental difference between making empirical claims without evidence, and demanding evidence for empirical claims.
posted by delmoi at 10:45 PM on December 29, 2007


Brian B.: Besides penalities, the obscure point you are missing is that 40% is higher than your last bracket, therefore no Laffer effect.

Yeah, you don't understand the Laffer curve.

delmoi: There is a fundamental difference between making empirical claims without evidence, and demanding evidence for empirical claims.

You're probably desperately wishing you hadn't made an empirical claim without evidence, but you actually did. You said, "I'm sure that junk food causes far more social costs then drugs." Did you ever provide any empirical evidence? Hell no, you're above all that.

Do you want others to provide empirical evidence, though? Of course! You're a rank hypocrite, after all. Pardon me why I "Laffer" you off. Haha. I tied it all together, you see.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 11:43 PM on December 29, 2007


If you guys still want data:

[Quote:]
Common Sense for Drug Policy has released the 6th edition of Drug War Facts in PDF. Here’s an excerpt from the fact book:
Social Indicator   USA     Netherlands   Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 36.9%1 17.0%2 Past month prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 5.4%1 3.0% 2 Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+) 1.4%1 0.4% 2 Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population 7013 1004 Per capita spending on criminal justice system (in Euros) €3795 €223 5 Homicide rate per 100,000 population 5.566 1.516 Source 1:  US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Washington, DC: HHS, August 2002), p. 109, Table H.1.

Source 2:  Trimbos Institute, “Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2002″ (Lisboa, Portugal: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Nov. 2002), p. 28, Table 2.1.
Source 3:  Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 3, Table 2.
Source 4:  Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 5, Table 4.
Source 5:  van Dijk, Frans & Jaap de Waard, “Legal infrastructure of the Netherlands in international perspective: Crime control” (Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, June 2000), p. 9, Table S.13.

Source 6:  Barclay, Gordon, Cynthia Tavares, Sally Kenny, Arsalaan Siddique & Emma Wilby, “International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001,” Issue 12/03 (London, England: Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate, October 2003), p. 10, Table 1.1.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:32 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


crap - that table looked right on preview. Anyway, follow the link for the table...
posted by DreamerFi at 1:33 AM on December 30, 2007


Thanks Dreamerfi !

From drugwarfacts.rog

From "Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000," Journal of the American Medical Association, March 10, 2004, Vol. 291, No. 10, pp. 1238, 1241.

Tobacco 435,000
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000
Alcohol 85,000
Suicide 30,622
Illicit Drug 17,000

and I didn't quote mant others between sucide and illicit drug.

Also in that paper, we can notice how the war on tobacco, manifested by shaming of the smokers , pushing them out public places , increase of cost cigarettes et al didn't decrease the number of deaths by tobacco between 1990-2000. Maybe we are just seeing the long term effects on previous smokers and we will have to wait longer to see if there is any significant decrease that could be reasonably related to a decrease in sales of tobacco, assuming that this decrease actually took place because of increasing prices, lack of advertisement, moral suasion.

But I also learn from WHO Tobacco Atlas that chineses are the world top smokers, and this paper published on BMJ suggests
This week Liu et al report the world’s largest analytical study of tobacco deaths, showing that in China smoking is already causing about 750 000 deaths a year and predicting that this will rise to three million a year by the time the young smokers of today reach middle and old age (p 1411).
And at the same time
Beginning in the early 1990s, drug abuse spread quickly. The number of registered drug addicts increased from 70,000 in 1990 to one million by the end of 2002.
Public(?) shootings of drug dealers notwithstanding.
posted by elpapacito at 3:52 AM on December 30, 2007


I have yet to see an answer to the drug problem. The current process in practice is woefully inadequate, and any alternatives presented have also fallen short of resolving the issue. This thread hasn't changed my opinion.

I used to think we should just legalize all of it, tax the crap out of it, and then use the tax money to pay for the inevitable cost this decision would make on the general public. However, you'd essentially be legalizing (and therefore serendipitously authorizing) immature and irresponsible behavior. Why is it ever okay to consume substances that cloud your judgment and impair your neurochemical faculties or cognitive abilities?

There are people who think it must be okay to drink alcohol to excess: I mean it is legal after all. We have people drink and drive still, tho that's illegal. Every person who does that rationalizes that this time it's different. For whatever reason the drive is important, and the individual driving under the influence thinks s/he can handle it. "Those other whackos can't drive while drunk, but I'm different!" Then they get into an accident. Duh.

I'm sure this happens today with users of currently illegal substances, but not to the extent it happens with drunk drivers. Legalize pot, and more people will go to work stoned, and over time it would become more and more common practice to see it everywhere. No one would feel the need to hide it anymore. This may look good on the surface, but only to people who don't own a company, or aren't responsible for a large number of employees.

I'd like to see drugs legalized, but any illegal action done while on drugs should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Being stoned while committing heinous acts should not be an excuse. I'd like to see that happen, but honestly, I am not convinced that would be an improvement on what we have now.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:41 AM on December 30, 2007


ZachsMind writes "I'd like to see drugs legalized, but any illegal action done while on drugs should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Uh nice concept, indeed we should take our private/public leaders and have them mandatorly analyzed for cocaine/alcohol/nicotine anytime they make a decision or form a set of ideas. Some tv show tried exactly that in my country, they tricked a small part of our parlament representatives into giving out a sample of their sweat, turns out some of them assumed at least cocaine, the recreational drug of the rich and powerful. Obviously, it's hard to vote a law against drug _users_ while you happily consume some , pretend to tell others to do what they preach and now what they do, it's a very tough sale.

Why did they feel compelled to consume, while having and idea of the risks and the mind altering effects, is the core of the problem.
posted by elpapacito at 6:40 AM on December 30, 2007


Yeah, you don't understand the Laffer curve.

Or I understand it too well. The Laffer curve is a gimmick to sell flat taxes, which would fail every time to match the fairness and revenue of a smooth progressive tax.

Also, the Laffer Curve is clearly a model assuming uniform tax rates across all income ranges. Since most governments do not have a flat tax rate the Laffer curve would not hold for them, although similar effects may apply, and so it is a useful simplification to think about.

I don't yet know what your main point was getting at, but your assumptions are disputed on the same page.

The Laffer Curve assumes that the Government will collect no tax at a 100% tax rate because, rationally, no person will choose to carry out work if they receive none of the economic return from that work. However some economists question whether this assumption is correct.[4] For example, in classically structured Communist societies, there was an effective 100% tax rate and, whilst these societies may have been highly inefficient, people did continue to work to some extent.

Note that you went to 100% tax rate and then jumped backwards to an imaginary 40% next rate to make your point about raising revenue, presumably from zero to somewhere near 40%. I doubted this in practice. In theory, as a counterexample, a 100% marginal rate would also produce revenue on things like inheritance, besides the effect of capping massive bonuses, which would be spent on something else that might raise the incomes of more people.
posted by Brian B. at 8:43 AM on December 30, 2007


ZachsMind: We have people drink and drive still, tho that's illegal. Every person who does that rationalizes that this time it's different. For whatever reason the drive is important, and the individual driving under the influence thinks s/he can handle it. "Those other whackos can't drive while drunk, but I'm different!" Then they get into an accident. Duh.

Robert DuPont, a drug warrior and former head of NIDA, claimed in a recent anti-marijuana-legalization op-ed that only 1 in 2000 instances of drunk-driving ended in an accident. I couldn't find that study but I did find this one which estimated the number of drunk-driving episodes.

In a nutshell, in 2002, there were an estimated

159 million episodes of drunk-driving and
17,419 alcohol-related traffic deaths viz.
1 in 9128 episodes results in a death

..which makes the 1 in 2000 odds (of any accident) claim plausible. This is just one of those issues where the probability of an event is very low, but its consequences are severe and often imposed upon a 3rd-party.
posted by daksya at 10:12 AM on December 30, 2007


Tobacco 435,000
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000
Alcohol 85,000
Suicide 30,622
Illicit Drug 17,000


This is a clear cut case for keeping drugs illegal, although I think it is most often cited as a fallacious argument to make them more available.
posted by Brian B. at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2007


This is a clear cut case for keeping drugs illegal

You must be kidding? I hope?

Perhaps you meant this is a clear cut case for making cigarettes and alcohol illegal? In which case, the latter has been tried.
posted by Justinian at 11:57 AM on December 30, 2007


You must be kidding? I hope?

Any drug that can cause death by overdose or fetal toxicity would be a liability for the distributor and manufacturer, who would be sued for manslaughter and fetal deformation. Criminal penalties are just a way to prevent these cases from flooding the courts and give prosecutors powers to prevent most people, especially the poor and undereducated, from becoming legally victimized. Do you want to legalize all toxic substances, or just the ones that cause economic slavery and addiction?
posted by Brian B. at 12:46 PM on December 30, 2007


Any drug that can cause death by overdose or fetal toxicity would be a liability for the distributor and manufacturer, who would be sued for manslaughter and fetal deformation.

So, then, you are saying that alcohol and cigarettes should be illegal? Again, we've tried the former and it didn't work very well.

Besides, your statement is patently false. You can overdose on a huge number of legal substances. Am I to understand you feel that water should be illegal given that people die every year from water intoxication, ie overdose?
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on December 30, 2007


So, then, you are saying that alcohol and cigarettes should be illegal? Again, we've tried the former and it didn't work very well.

Besides, your statement is patently false. You can overdose on a huge number of legal substances.


Two wrongs don't make a right. Standard fallacy there, and I never made a false statement that you pointed out. You simply don't have an argument. I think cigarettes should be taxed at 100% to help pay for lung treatment and discourage smoking. Who will deny that it costs us all money? Alcohol is too easy to make to do much about, and it is healthy as a food substance in smart doses. We tried legal heroin before, when it showed up in the baby nostrums around 1905. Same with cocaine cola. These were imported drugs (and with German patent owning heroin at the time). Old news about your plans. If you want to legalize pot, just say so and argue it on the merits. The "gateway" fallacy is easy to debunk.
posted by Brian B. at 1:16 PM on December 30, 2007


Oh, one assumes you also think Tylenol should be outlawed as it is one of the most common substances to overdose on, and is especially problematic because by the time the big symptoms show up it is mostly too late for effective treatment.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on December 30, 2007


and I never made a false statement that you pointed out. You simply don't have an argument.

Do you ever read what you write? You said, not more than a couple posts ago, that any drug which can cause death by overdose would be a liability for the manufacturer because they would be sued big time. This is false. Look at Tylenol. Easy to OD on, people die from it every year, but it is a HUGE boon to the manufacturer.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2007


This is false. Look at Tylenol. Easy to OD on, people die from it every year, but it is a HUGE boon to the manufacturer.

You might as well cite oxycontin, which is legal and a boon to the maker. And which is controversial as legal. Tylenol kills your liver, relatively slowly, and takes a few hours before it is impossible to reverse. Death takes a day or two. This is the tradeoff to having it relieve pain instead of requiring opiates which would introduce addiction and more sudden deaths.
posted by Brian B. at 1:32 PM on December 30, 2007


I couldn't cite oxycontin since you need a prescription for it. You can buy Tylenol as easily as water or bread.

I don't understand what you're saying. I mean, I understand the individual posts but they don't seem to gel together. Things that you can overdose on are okay if they have benefits as well as negatives? Or what? I mean... you say tylenol is okay to be legal, that alcohol is okay to be legal, that cigarettes should be taxed at 100% but be legal... what, exactly and precisely is the delineation for "this should be legal" and "this should be illegal" in your opinion?

Because from the outside it looks more like a moral judgment on your part than any kind of rational analysis. There is simply no possible way to argue that legal cigarettes are less harmful than legal codeine without some kind of moral component coming in to play.
posted by Justinian at 5:20 PM on December 30, 2007


You can buy Tylenol as easily as water or bread.

And you can sue them with success in the case of wrongful death, but find a lawyer who specializes in "Tylenol cases" first. It will disappear from shelves when better substitutes are found. The liability is always there, and if it didn't work to keep people non-addicted, it would be less tolerated.

I don't understand what you're saying. I mean, I understand the individual posts but they don't seem to gel together. Things that you can overdose on are okay if they have benefits as well as negatives? Or what? I mean... you say tylenol is okay to be legal, that alcohol is okay to be legal, that cigarettes should be taxed at 100% but be legal... what, exactly and precisely is the delineation for "this should be legal" and "this should be illegal" in your opinion?

Because from the outside it looks more like a moral judgment on your part than any kind of rational analysis. There is simply no possible way to argue that legal cigarettes are less harmful than legal codeine without some kind of moral component coming in to play.


You're just making a case for outlawing cigarettes, but not serious about it. One is obviously easier to outlaw than the other. There are desperate arguments for legalization out there that can't make their case without trying to hitch a ride on alcohol and tobacco by using the two-wrongs fallacy.

As for moral judgments from me, I don't consider that as wrong in itself. If someone wants to push a chemical substance with a high value added, endangering the mental health and well-being of children, the poor, the emotionally unstable, and making them addicts/economic slaves in the process, then it would be my duty to morally judge them, and to see their advantage as exploiting the properties of the drug itself.
posted by Brian B. at 6:37 PM on December 30, 2007


However, you'd essentially be legalizing (and therefore serendipitously authorizing) immature and irresponsible behavior.

So? Is it the governments job to force everyone to act "mature" and "responsible"?
posted by delmoi at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2007


We tried legal heroin before, when it showed up in the baby nostrums around 1905

There was a huge difference between the regulatory framework in 1905 and today. It's perfictly possible to say "This is legal, except in baby medicine"
posted by delmoi at 11:27 AM on December 31, 2007


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