May 1, 2004
Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition
The war on drugs has not reduced drug use, crime, or poverty as its proponents claim, says Boston University economist Jeffrey Miron. In fact, the criminalization of drugs has actually increased the homicide rate in this country, says Miron his new book, DRUG WAR CRIMES: The Consequences of Prohibition (Independent Institute, May 2004). He offers a powerful economic analysis of the failure of U.S. drug policies to deter drug abuse and reduce crime, and examines the real costs of this country's war on drugs.
Drug prohibition in the U.S. is now almost eighty years old. In recent years, government expenditure for prohibition enforcement has exceeded $33 billion annually, with law enforcement authorities making more than 1.5 million arrests per year on drug-related charges. Jeffrey Miron, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, offers an insightful look at the costs, benefits, and consequences of drug prohibition and offers some new and disturbing findings, including:
- The link between the homicide rate and the amount of resources given to drug prohibition. A study of sample precincts in New York City, for example, found that three-quarters of drug-related homicides resulted from drug-trade disputes. Eliminating drug prohibition would probably reduce homicide in the United States by 25 to 75 percent.
- In the U.S. there are now more than 318,000 people behind bars for drug violations, more than the total number of people incarcerated for all crimes in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain combined.
- The price of illegal drugs has actually declined over the past two decades, reflecting their greater availability. Adjusting for inflation and drug purity, the price of cocaine fell in real terms from $450 per pure gram in 1981 to about $100 by 1996.
- The failure of law enforcement and the courts to reduce drug consumption: although there are more than 1.2 million possession arrests each year, there are more than 28 million drug users, who face minimal risk of arrest or other sanctions.
In Drug War Crimes, Miron shows that in addition to increasing violence, prohibition also creates new health risks for drug users, enriches criminals, and threatens our civil liberties. Prohibition, he forcefully argues, is a poor method of reducing drug use and an inappropriate goal for government policy.
If prohibition is not the right policy, then what is? Drug War Crimes argues that modifications of current prohibition, such as reduced enforcement, decriminalization, medicalization, or legalization of marijuana only, are moves in the right direction, but they are inferior to a fully legalizing these substances. In a legal climate, policies such as subsidized treatment, needle exchanges, public health campaigns, age restrictions, or limits on advertising might have desirable effects, but these policies also have negative consequences that can outweigh any positives. Miron suggests that legalization--treating drugs like all other commodities, such as coffee and cigarettes--is the best policy for society overall.
In Drug War Crimes, Jeffrey Miron has written a thoughtful analysis that questions the basis for the official war on drugs. He uses current evidence and historical precedent to support legalization by showing that prohibition only makes a slight dent in drug use. Instead, as Miron persuasively demonstrates, the net effects of prohibition, both past and present, are to increase violence, enrich criminals, threaten civil liberties, and make drug users more ill. The right question for policy makers, he concludes, is not whether drugs are misused but whether the benefits of prohibition outweigh its exorbitant costs. All in all, this is a solidly researched and dispassionate discussion of a topic that is too often couched in moral and emotional terms.
Hubert Williams, President, Police Foundation; former Chief of Police, Newark, NJ
Miron's arguments are lucid, well-reasoned, and powerful. Everyone can benefit from reading this important, insightful work.
Margaret M. Russell, former Vice-President, ACLU Professor of Law, Santa Clara University
A highly significant improvement to the canon of drug war literature can well be used as the standard for judging all else in the field. A reasonable mind will find this book exceedingly valuable. It has been needed for a very long time.
John L. Kane, Jr., Senior Judge, U.S. District Court
DRUG WAR CRIMES: The Consequences of Prohibition
By Jeffrey A. Miron
109 Pages o 8 Figures, 4 Tables o 6 x 9 o $15.95 Paperback o ISBN9045999-90-9
Date of Publication: May 2004
PUBLISHED BY THE INDEPENDENT INSTITUTE