How does the War on Drugs affect society and the economy? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Jeffrey A Miron, Harvard University, on Quora:
Most governments outlaw the production, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. Advocates believe this “War on Drugs” reduces use and abuse, lowers crime, improves health and productivity, and makes the moral statement that drugs are evil. In fact, prohibition causes most of the problems often attributed to drugs, while generating additional undesired consequences.
Prohibition plausibly reduces drug consumption, but only to a minor degree, since prohibition mainly drives drug markets underground. This implies increased violence, since participants in black markets cannot resolve commercial disputes with courts or arbitration and so use violence instead. Prohibition also means increased overdoses and accidental poisonings, since quality control is far more problematic in underground markets (e.g., drugs laced with fentanyl).
Prohibition also redistributes to criminals, incentivizes corruption, encourages infringements on civil liberties, exacerbates racial animosities, spreads AIDS due to restrictions on clean needles, limits research about, and the use of, banned drugs for medicinal purposes, and complicates foreign relations, trade, immigration, and national security policies.
Prohibition increases budgets deficits world-wide by hundreds of billions per year due to enforcement costs and the lost tax revenue governments would collect if drugs were legal but taxed like tobacco and alcohol.
Still a further harm from prohibition is any reduction in consumption by users who perceive benefits and do not harm others. This is the perspective most societies implicitly endorse for the legality of alcohol, caloric desserts, and myriad other products.
The standard justifications for prohibition therefore fail. Myopia harms users more in underground markets, since quality control is poor. Externalities from drug use are real (e.g., driving under the influence), but the externalities from prohibition are worse. Moral considerations are difficult to adjudicate, but prohibition’s effects are plausibly less “moral” than drug use (more children born with HIV, innocents caught in drive-by shootings, sick people unable to access useful medicines, racial disparities in law enforcement, increased violence and corruption in other countries).
Thus the War on Drugs generates a broad range of adverse consequences, with only minor effects in reducing problematic drug use.
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.