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More Stories. Second, users may switch from low-potency drugs to harder drugs such as from marijuana to cocaine. Third, users are likely to employ ingestion methods that increase the effectiveness of drugs such as injecting rather than smoking a drug. Taken together, these information and potency effects mean that prohibition likely increases drug overdoses.
Prohibition and Drug-Related Disease By raising drug prices, which pushes people toward harder drugs, prohibition increases disease transmission. As mentioned above, higher prices encourage more intense methods of use, such as injection.
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In many states, it is illegal to buy and sell needles and syringes without a prescription. These two effects combine to encourage the reuse and sharing of dirty needles. Repeated use of needles even by the same individual is unsafe. Needles dull with each use and may break off under the skin, thus causing infections or other problems. Prohibition and Violence Proponents of prohibition claim that banning the manufacture, sale, and use of drugs will reduce drug-related violence.
This claim rests on the assumption that drug use leads to violence. But violence in drug markets may instead result from the institutional context created by prohibition. When drugs are illegal, users cannot use formal legal channels to resolve disputes or seek legitimate protection for their business transactions. Neither buyers nor sellers in the illicit drug trade will turn to the police or other legal dispute-resolution mechanisms.
Instead, individuals must solve their own problems, which often means they use violence to solve issues as opposed to more peaceful means of legal dispute resolution. In addition to pushing individuals in the drug trade toward violence, prohibition means that those involved in the drug market are automatically criminals.
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This lowers the cost of committing a subsequent crime, such as assaulting a rival drug dealer, relative to a scenario in which drugs are legal. Moreover, prohibition may increase the benefits of using violence.
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By gaining a reputation for using violence, those involved in the drug trade may exert more effective control over the market. One result is that those with a comparative advantage in violence and criminality will be attracted to the market for drugs since these skills are necessary for long-term success. Taken together, the lack of legal channels combined with automatic criminalization lowers the cost of engaging in criminal activity and increases the benefit of using violence.
It follows that the prohibition of drugs may be the primary cause of crime in the drug market, not the physical effects of use. Increased violence in the drug market may generate additional unintended consequences. As a result of violent drug interactions, police are more likely to adopt more intense techniques and stronger equipment. As these practices become ingrained in everyday policing, citizens outside the illicit drug market will also be affected. Furthermore, prohibition means police are granted increased power over the lives of citizens. Absent the appropriate checks, these changes may disproportionately impact particular groups.
The disproportionate number of black and Hispanic individuals incarcerated in the criminal justice system, for instance, has led to protests and social movements, such as Black Lives Matter.
Prohibition and Cartels Proponents of prohibition argue that these policies disrupt and dismantle drug cartels. In practice, however, prohibition appears to promote cartelization of the drug industry. Recall that drug prohibition keeps some suppliers out of the drug market—those unwilling or unable to take the risks associated with operating in an illicit industry.
Those individuals and groups that remain are those more comfortable with using violence and engaging in illicit activity. In a legal market for drugs, not only would the costs and benefits of using violence change violence would be less attractive , but new entrants could more easily penetrate the market. Over time, monopoly power would be eroded as in other competitive markets. As such, cartels would be unlikely to form and would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.
Under prohibition, however, the cost of maintaining a monopoly is reduced, as government policies effectively drive out would-be competitors, making it easier for cartels to form and maintain their dominant market position. Moreover, these effects are self-perpetuating. Under a cartelized market, monopoly power leads to an increase in prices, which further increases the benefits to dominant producers using violence to maintain their market position.
Colombian drug cartels controlled the flow of cocaine into the United States throughout the s and s. Today, Mexican drug cartels provide a variety of drugs—including marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine—to U. In each of these cases, the violence associated with the drug markets has been substantial. Prohibition and Corruption The cartelization of the drug industry under prohibition helps give rise to yet another unintended consequence: the corruption of public officials and civil servants.
The illegal nature of the market, desire to avoid capture, and potentially high profit margins create a strong incentive for those involved in the drug trade to avoid being captured and punished. As a result, these individuals are more likely to attempt to bribe public officials including police officers, military personnel, judges, and other elected officials involved in drug interdiction.
Indeed, we observe that those who refuse to take bribes are often threatened with violence against their families. Consequences of the War on Drugs: Evidence from the United States Until the turn of the 20th century, currently outlawed drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine were legal under federal and virtually all state laws. In , Congress implemented the first restrictions on the sale and use of some substances, including cannabis, morphine, cocaine, and heroin, with the Pure Food and Drug Act, labeling many substances as addictive or dangerous.
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By , more than 25, American doctors had been arraigned on narcotics charges; some 3, served time in prison. The DEA was tasked with enforcing all federal drug laws, as well as coordinating broader drug interdiction activities. Overdose Deaths and Drug-Related Illness in the United States Under prohibition, poor information quality and flow, combined with potency effects on both sides of the market, would predict an increase in drug-related deaths. This is precisely what we observe. This figure rose to 3.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
By , there were 12 overdose deaths per , people. These numbers have continued to climb. According to the CDC, more than 47, overdose deaths occurred in the United States in , representing Between and , more people in the United States died from drug overdoses than from car crashes. As economic reasoning predicts, the majority of these deaths are related to consumption of more potent drugs. In , for instance, 61 percent of all overdose deaths were caused by opioids. The rate of opioid overdoses increased significantly in the first 15 years of the new millennium.
Between and , overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids nearly doubled, and the rate of all opioid overdoses has more than tripled since The spread of drug-related disease in the United States has also seen a sharp increase since the launch of the War on Drugs. In , nearly 60 percent of all new hepatitis C infections and 17 percent of hepatitis B infections occurred in drug users. Violence in the U. Drug Market Just as overdose deaths and drug-related illnesses increase under drug prohibition, so, too, does violence related to the market for drugs.
In one study of New York City homicides, researchers found that while only 7. Other studies over the past four decades have reached similar findings. A study found that increased drug enforcement was positively and significantly associated with increases in violent crime. Cartelization of the Drug Industry Just as alcohol prohibition gave rise to the American Mafia, the early prohibition of opium and other drugs in the late s and early s fostered the formation of Chinese drug gangs.
These tongs, or fraternal organizations, acted as gangs, and they profiteered from opium, gambling, and prostitution, using violent tactics ranging from stabbings to bombings. The modern War on Drugs promoted the creation and strengthening of violent cartels.
Colombian economist Eduardo Sarmiento Palacio, for example, argued that the U. War on Drugs led directly to the rise of Colombian drug cartels. There is further evidence that cartel-controlled operations are replacing domestic drug producers. According to the DEA, methamphetamine lab busts have fallen from almost 24, in to 11, in These cartels have helped fuel violence within both the United States and Mexico.
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