'Save the country, legalise drugs.' Under this striking banner, two former Dutch government ministers (for foreign affairs and health) are launching their revolutionary plan. They estimate that more than half of all the costs of crime are related to drugs. They argue that by regulating their production and sale and imposing strict government supervision, drug crime will disappear. And they say that would lead to unprecedented savings for the police and judiciary.
The ban on recreational drugs promotes crime and is bad for public health. Austerity measures to cut public spending are a hot topic for debate everywhere in Europe. In the Netherlands, where a new parliament will be elected next month, several proposals to reduce spending by 30 billion euros are on the table. All of these proposals hit where it hurts, but one option could actually be a welcome relief: drug regulation. (See also: Former ministers: legalise all drugs!)
A number of other countries have implemented changes in law that significantly reduce the extent of criminalization of marijuana use. Only in Australia and the Netherlands have there been any changes on the criminalization of the supply side and in neither of those countries is it legal to both produce and sell the drug. The relaxations so far, with the exception of the Netherlands, have not been very great i.e. have not much changed the legal risks faced by a user of marijuana. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that the changes in prevalence of use have not been substantial. This paper provides a brief review of the changes that have been tried outside the US. The emphasis is on the nature of the changes and how they have been implemented rather than on outcomes.
Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Robert J. MacCoun, Peter H. Reuter
07 July 2010
To learn more about the possible outcomes of marijuana legalization in California, RAND researchers constructed a model based on a series of estimates of current consumption, current and future prices, how responsive use is to price changes, taxes levied and possibly evaded, and the aggregation of nonprice effects (such as a change in stigma).
Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has joined calls for a debate on the legalisation of drugs as new figures show thousands of Mexicans every year being slaughtered in cartel wars. "It is a fundamental debate," the president said, belying his traditional reluctance to accept any questioning of the military-focused offensive against the country's drug cartels. "You have to analyse carefully the pros and cons and key arguments on both sides." The president said he personally opposes the idea of legalisation.
Spain's former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez called for an international treaty to legalise drugs as a way to end the deadly wars between trafficking cartels. "I think it will be our only way of confronting" drug trafficking, he told reporters. He acknowleged that "no country can take this decision (to legalise drugs) unilaterally without an extremely serious (political) cost for its leaders. He called for an international conference on the issue, while admitting that it was "unlikely ever to happen."
In a dramatic shift of sentiment, nearly half of California's likely voters now want to legalize marijuana use in the state, according to a new Field Poll. Forty-nine percent of those likely voters now support Prop. 19, with 42 percent opposed. In a July poll, 48 percent of those surveyed planned to vote against the ballot initiative, with 44 percent backing legalization.
It's as predictable as the sun rising and setting. Even though police made more than 850,000 marijuana arrests last year, a recent government report shows youth marijuana use increased by about 9 percent -- 76 percent of Americans recognize the drug war has failed; millions are demanding change.
If there is a "war on drugs", this is it. Mexico is undergoing worse violence than has been seen in Latin America in decades. President Felipe Calderon's decision to take the fight to the narcos has been returned with drug gang brutality on a massive scale. If any good is to come out of the tragedy afflicting Mexico, it is that the misguided global approach to drug regulation will be challenged and may, eventually, be changed.
Even if Californians vote next month to legalize marijuana, possession of the drug will still be a criminal offense under federal law, which trumps state law almost every time under the U.S. Constitution. But crackdowns on users and small-scale growers could decrease if Californians pass Proposition 19, the ballot measure proposing to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
The report reviews 20 years of data from US government funded surveillance systems on government drug control spending, cannabis seizures and cannabis arrests, in order to assess the impact of enforced cannabis prohibition on cannabis potency, price and availability. The report’s findings highlight the clear failure of cannabis prohibition efforts by showing that as the United States has dramatically scaled up drug law enforcement, cannabis potency has nevertheless increased, prices have dropped, and cannabis remains widely available.
Legalizing marijuana in California will not dramatically reduce the drug revenues collected by Mexican drug trafficking organizations from sales to the United States, according to a new RAND Corporation study. The study calculates that Mexican drug trafficking organizations generate only $1 billion to $2 billion annually from exporting marijuana to the United States and selling it to wholesalers, far below existing estimates by the government and other groups.
Proposition 19, which would partially legalize marijuana in California, would do little to curtail the violent Mexican organizations that smuggle it across the border, according to a new study by drug policy researchers that takes aim at one of the main arguments proponents have made for the initiative. The report released by Rand Corp. estimates that legalized marijuana could displace the Mexican marijuana sold in California, but concludes that would erase no more than 2% to 4% of the revenues the gangs receive from drug exports.
Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond, Peter H. Reuter
13 October 2010
The United States’ demand for illicit drugs creates markets for Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and helps foster violence in Mexico. Some government and media sources have reported that Mexican and Colombian DTOs combined earn $18–$39 billion annually in wholesale drug proceeds and 60 percent of all Mexican DTO drug export revenue comes from marijuana. These numbers have been cited to argue that legalizing marijuana in California would reduce Mexican DTOs’ revenues, thereby reducing violence.
Proposition 19 has a chance of winning mainly because Californians have become rather relaxed about weed. Back in 1972 a proposition to legalise the drug was defeated almost two-to-one. These days, fully half of Californians tell pollsters they favour legalisation, and almost as many admit to having smoked marijuana themselves, which probably means that a big majority have actually done so.
If California votes in favour of legalisation, Mexico would be wise to follow suit (the bottom would anyway fall out of its marijuana business). The drug gangs would still be left with more lucrative cocaine and methamphetamines. But it would become easier to defeat them. The idea of going back to a tacit bargain that tolerates organised crime, favoured by some in Mexico, is inimical to the rule of law, and thus to democracy and a free society. The sooner Mexico turns its new-found sense of urgency into a more effective national policing and law-enforcement strategy the better.
Stepping up the Obama administration's opposition to Proposition 19, the nation's top law enforcement official promised to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws against Californians who grow or sell marijuana for recreational use even if voters pass the legalization measure.
People on both sides of the marijuana legalization debate have strong feelings about Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that promises to regulate, control and tax cannabis. But science and empirical research have been given short shrift in the discussion. That's unfortunate, because the U.S. government has actually funded excellent research on the subject, and it suggests that several widely held assumptions about cannabis legalization actually may be inaccurate. When the total body of knowledge is considered, it's hard to conclude that we should stick with the current system.