Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Procurador's Myths

Eight Myths of Drug Legalization, by the Procuraduria.
Colombia's right-wing Procurador, Alejandro Ordoñez, a notorious figure in leftist circles, recently published a report listing the 'Eight Myths of Drug Legalization.' (In case you didn't know it, Ordoñez fervently opposes drug legalization.)

But many of Ordoñez's 'arguments' seem to be myths themselves.

Take Ordoñez's argument that the War on Drugs has not failed, because consumption of some drugs has declined, as has Colombian production of cocaine and heroin.

Ordoñez's statements are true enough. But while United States consumption of cocaine has decline, European consumption has apparently risen. And, meanwhile, U.S. consumption of synthetic drugs has risen.

Meanwhile, by the measures of price and purity, heroin and cocaine have become more available in recent decades, according to the British Medical Journal, which is probably a more objective and academic source than is Colombia's Procurador.

The price (blue line) of heroin in the U.S. has declined over recent years, while purity (red line) has held steady. (Source: British Medical Journal)
The price (blue line) of cocaine in the U.S. was about the same in 2009 as in 1990, as was the drug's purity (red line). (Source: British Medical Journal)
The British Medical Journal's report concluded that "With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply, illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."

Ordoñez also points out that drugs can be very bad for you - which is something that nobody, including legalization advocates, disputes. Rather, the advocates of drug decriminalization or legalization argue that, as bad as drugs can be, prohibitionism has made the situation worse.

Ordoñez also attacks the 'myth' that legalization doesn't increase drug consumption. Whether that's a 'myth' or not is itself debatable. After all, experts disagree over whether or not drinking declined during the U.S.'s alcohol Prohibition era. I personally agree with Ordoñez that legalization will probably increase consumption of many drugs, but that's not really the issue. The issue is whether prohibition's huge cost is blood and money is worth whatever decrease in consumption it's accomplished.

Ordoñez also disputes the idea that people arrested for drugs are not overcrowding prisons and busting government budgets (not to mention ruining lots of people's lives). Needless to say, in the U.S. at least, minorities tend to be punished disproportionately for drug crimes.

Here's graph from The Sentencing Project, which opposes harsh sentences for drug crimes.
The number of people imprisoned for drug crimes in the U.S. has boomed over the past decades.
In his sixth 'myth' Ordoñez argues, bizarrely, that legalization will not enable governments to regulated now-prohibited substances. But don't governments now regulate legal drugs such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol? Not perfectly, of course, but I see tobacco and alcohol paying taxes and being sold with health warnings.

During the U.S.'s alcohol Prohibition era, of course, things changed dramatically, as drinking was done illegally and Mafia violence boomed, thanks to the profits of smuggled alcohol.

Ordoñez's seventh point argues that the War on Drugs can be won. In invite the Sr. Procurador to provide a single example of a drug war victory - at least outside of a tyrannical nation which imposes the death penalty for drug offenses.

Ordoñez's eigth and final 'myth is that 'moral arguments cannot be used in the debate on drug legalization.' Of course they can be used. But secular governments should base their policies not on the religious code of ethics which Ordoñez uses, but on the concrete costs and benefits of its policies.

Drug prohibition has, of course, accomplished some things. It's raised the price of drugs, making them less accessible, and so probably reduced consumption. However, that has come at a huge cost in government expenditures, violence, corruption and ruined lives. Those are costs which must be weighed against drug prohibition's questionable benefits.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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