Editorial: Rise or Fall 3/25/05

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden
Every now and then a candid comment by a public official reveals the sheer incoherence of the government's anti-drug strategy. The latest such remark came from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The topic was opium in Afghanistan. Annan informed attendees at an Afghan opium conference in Pakistan this week that the anti-opium drive in Afghanistan was counteracting itself by driving up the price opium fetches on the black market, making opium growing more attractive for farmers.

I would have told them to expect that to happen, if they had asked me. Or they could have asked officials involved with eradication in other countries. But that's where it gets really incoherent.

The economic theory behind supply-side anti-drug efforts is that reducing the drug supply or increasing the danger in providing drugs will drive up their prices. Higher prices, it is thought, will then reduce demand -- supply and demand, Econ 101. (Of course prices have dropped dramatically during the decades the supply-side drug war has been waged. But that's another issue.)

I was surprised to learn, then, that the bureaucrats coordinating interdiction on the ground in nations like Colombia or Peru or Bolivia are not trying to drive the prices up, but rather down. Or at least some of the time that's what they're doing. They've experienced the same phenomenon that Kofi Annan this week reported for Afghanistan. So instead of driving prices up, which would make growing more lucrative, they want to reduce the prices to make it less so.

But if prices are made to fall, how does that serve the overarching goal of increasing prices? One hand is pulling in a different direction from the other, and it doesn't add up. But it's important to understand why this is happening.

It is happening because drug warriors are fighting a futile battle, against a force of greater power than any government can master. Large numbers of people, in the US, Europe, and elsewhere want to use drugs made from opium, have the ability to pay large sums of money for those drugs, and are willing to do so. Demand at such a level creates supply. Therefore someone will grow the opium, process it into heroin, and distribute it to the world's heroin users, regardless of what governments try to do about it -- also Econ 101.

And so any supply-side measure against drug supplies will ultimately end up serving the mechanisms of the market in one way or another. But because policymakers and drug war generals can't admit this, they are driven to all extremes of intellectual contortion to create an appearance of having an approach that just might work -- if only they are given more funding to attempt it. Pushing the prices up didn't work? Let's try pushing them down. Pushing the prices down didn't work? Let's try pushing them up. Pushing the prices up didn't work? You get the idea.

In a time of international terrorism, the world can scarcely afford to squander its resources indulging in such fruitless foolishness. To do so in Afghanistan, where the worst of the terrorism has been organized and where the anti-drug campaigns risk losing us the hearts and minds of people whose help we need to stop it, is particularly offensive. Instead, opium and its products should be legalized, its profits brought into the licit economy where they can be channeled in ways that foster stability and lawfulness rather than undermine them.

Which makes it time for our leaders to be truly candid. And then for them to act on it.

-- END --
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Issue #380 -- 3/25/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed


Editorial: Rise or Fall | Reefer Reversal? British Government to Reconsider Cannabis Reclassification | Medical Marijuana Bills Fail in Illinois, New Mexico | Special to DRCNet: Steroids, Sluggers, and the War on Drugs | DRCNet Book Review: Sports, Sex, Eternal Youth: A Cultural History of Testosterone | DRCNet Letter to Judge Wexler on Upcoming Hurwitz Sentencing Hearing | Please Help Students Losing Financial Aid for College Because of Drug Convictions Get Their Aid Back -- Alerts Online for the House, Senate, and Arizona and Rhode Island Legislatures | This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Corrupt Cops Stories on the Air | Events and Conferences Coming Up for Drug Reformers -- Come Out and Be a Part of It | Newsbrief: DC Judge Cleared in Jail Death of Paralyzed Marijuana User | Newsbrief: Michigan Nightclub Rave Raid Nets 118, Many Charged Only with Frequenting a "Drug House" | Newsbrief: From Exile, Kubby Challenges Search Warrant in Case That Caused Him to Flee United States | Newsbrief: Britain's Top TV Cop Says Legalize Heroin | Newsbrief: Marijuana Crops Defended in Fiji Senate Hearing | Newsbrief: Afghan Anti-Opium Drive Causes Prices to Rise, Makes New Planting More Attractive, UN Head Annan Says | Newsbrief: At US Behest, Pakistan Clerics Vow Jihad Against Drugs | Media Scan: Becker-Posner Blog, Neal Peirce, URI on HEA, Tulia, Loretta Nall, Baker Institute on Needle Exchange, New Jersey Network on Medical Marijuana, Whosarat.com | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar

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