marijuana raid

Bend, Oregon police conduct a marijuana raid

It would appear very aggressive drug enforcement produces a huge social cost without even accomplishing what should be its main goal, according to a new article by Harold Pollack and Peter Reuter in the Journal of Addiction.

The supposed point of criminalizing drugs is to stop people from using them. And one of the big ways it is meant to accomplish this is by raising their price.  Theoretically, people are less able and inclined to buy expensive things.

It is clear that prohibition in general does increase prices by depriving drugs the efficiency of a legitimate market. Without access to things like banks, legitimate shipping channels and open communication, it becomes more expensive to conduct basic business.

But it appears that aggressive enforcement of anti-drug laws and harsh penalties don’t significantly drive up prices further.

Looking at the available studies the authors found that “although the fact of prohibition itself raises prices far above those likely to pertain in legal markets, there is little evidence that raising the risk of arrest, incarceration or seizure at different levels of the distribution system will raise prices at the targeted level, let alone retail prices.

Even if you believe a drug should be illegal you should seriously question the value of a “war on drugs”-style approach to prohibition. Locking people up for very long sentences carries a huge cost to society while not advancing one of its main policy goals.

Photo by Lee LeFever under Creative Commons license