OK, I stuck in the ecstasy
use results as well out of personal interest (the Netherlands
appears to be the heart of the world's ecstasy trade, at one point
producing as much as 80% of the world's supply according to one DEA
estimate.) They make more, purer,
stronger, and cheaper ecstasy tablets than pretty much any other country...good
pills can be had there for a few dollars apiece (as opposed to $15-$30
in the USA.) Indeed, the Netherlands is constantly accused of being
'soft on drugs' by the US. So, how is this possible? One of the most
sacred premises of the drug war says that levels of drug use depend
on price and availability, yet these results don't seem to support
Perhaps even more striking
are the results for marijuana. In spite of marijuana being openly and
legally available in the Netherlands, considerably fewer of their young
people currently use it, or have ever used it! How is such a thing possible
if, as the prohibitionists claim, having marijuana illegal is the only
thing that keeps us all from turning into unrepentant potheads?
I would suggest several
factors. First, by outlawing drugs, the government has made them the
'forbidden fruit'. Under prohibition, smoking pot is 'cool'. It's counterculture.
Rebellious. Courageous. A statement. Under legalization, it's just
unhealthy dumbass waste of your time and money. By effectively legalizing
marijuana, the Netherlands has kept it in its place, countering
ready and legal availability by denying it the prestige of government
It is clear than legalization
of marijuana in the Netherlands has not caused runaway use. Even as
adults, a person in the Netherlands is about half as likely as an American
to be a pot smoker, in spite of our having arrested
nearly 750,000 people for marijuana in 2001 alone. For all the
lives disrupted and destroyed, for all the billions of dollars and
chest-beating by politicians, there is no evidence that America's war
on marijuana has had even the slightest positive impact on levels
drug use. That's a pretty radical idea for most people, but...these
are the numbers. If you can find a justification of marijuana prohibition
in this or any other data, let me know.
Meanwhile in the
US, the government continues to study substance use by young people.
the latest Monitoring the Future study (2002), 89% of high school seniors
report that it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy"
for them to get marijuana. So, if we really want to give the Prohibitionists
the benefit of the doubt, we might say that they are keeping marijuana
away from about 10% of young adults. (By the time they graduate high
school, over half of American kids will have smoked marijuana.)
Harm Reduction Nations vs. Prohibitionist Nations.
The UN has dedicated a great
deal of effort to tracking the drug trade around the world, including
gathering information on usage rates of many drugs from numerous countries.
Here are some of the most recent results (numbers in parenthesis indicate
the age range studied and the year of the study; percentages are of
people who used the drug in question within the past year.)
You may ask why the
Netherlands, where high-grade marijuana flows like water, legally and
openly, has had so much better luck containing marijuana use than the
US has? Or compared to the United Kingdom, which has traditionally
virtually in lock-step with American drug policy? This is not necessarily
evidence that prohibition has increased use, but it's
certainly a damning blow to the prohibitionist belief that levels
drug use are significantly determined by legality. (Average price of
marijuana in the Netherlands was about $5 per gram, vs. $10 per gram
in the US.)
I can hear the prohibitionists,
squealing in protest: "Respect for the laws stops people from
using drugs! If you legalize pot, they'll have no reason not to become
Well, I have a wake up call for these simple-minded villains: American
popular culture loves marijuana. Sure, the law says no, but our friends,
the movies, MTV, and everybody else says yes, and in the end, culture
is infinitely more powerful than the moralizing condemnation of balding
legislators. That is why the Netherlands has kept
usage to half the rate of the US in spite of de facto legalization;
returned control of drug use from impotent government regulations to
social pressures and expectations, which are much harder to dodge
the law. The US government can never shift the tide of popular culture's
opinion of marijuana as long as they demonize and persecute it. They,
the Prohibitionists, made marijuana special. They've done it by declaring
'thou shall not because we say so'. They've done it by turning it into
a culture war instead of just a questionable lifestyle/health decision.
of a more lax policy towards the drug, in spite of a virtually limitless
local supply of high-quality low-cost pills, the Netherlands had considerably
less MDMA ('ecstasy') use than the US and UK, those eternal partners
in the great Drug War. (The UN reports an average per-pill price
in the US of $27 for 2000. Recently prices in the Netherlands have
reached around $3.)
Opiates (heroin, morphine, etc.)
The Netherlands also has
"dangerously lenient" policies regarding heroin users, trying
to treat them as people with a medical problem instead of as criminals.
Needle exchange programs, 'shooting galleries', even in some cases
police turning a blind eye to dealers who cooperate with harm-reduction
According to the American Prohibitionist dogma, the Netherlands should
be overrun with heroin addicts as a result. Yet...they are not. I
know what all the factors are that determine levels of use, but again,
it's clear that harm-reduction hasn't caused the sky to fall, nor
absolute Prohibition actually managed to produce any measurable benefits.
Further damning the Prohibitionist theories of drug use, in 1999 heroin
cost an average of $42.50 a gram in the Netherlands, while in the US
prices were $131 or more per gram (prices were similar in the UK.)
Stimulants (amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine.)
The US did far worse
than the Netherlands with amphetamines as well...but at least they
finally they pulled ahead of the UK, right? Well...
There's the explanation.
The US didn't doesn't have notably fewer stimulant users; Americans
are just more likely to be using cocaine instead of amphetamines. (Cocaine
was also more expensive in the US; $82 per gram vs. $61 in the Netherlands.)
Exporting the Drug War: Foreign
Supply Reduction Efforts
Lest we forget yet another
front in the American led drug-war, let's see how we're doing trying
to stop the flow of drugs coming into the country from overseas.
From powering the Disco era at
the height of Yuppie excess to helping make future US presidents the
life of the party, America has had a long love affair with
cocaine. In recent years, the US has aggressively pursued eradication
efforts in South America, helping to spray herbicides on coca plantations,
funding and equipping the local government troops, and providing advice.
If we define success as
being able to keep the price of cocaine from rapidly declining,
then the US effort has been a success. Still, the past decade saw
almost a 40% decline in wholesale prices. Average purity has, according
the DEA, declined modestly in recent years due to more restrictive
of chemicals used to process the coca leaves.
Arguably one of the
most dangerous, addictive, and socially costly illegal drugs,
controlling the heroin trade has long been a priority for the US. In
recent years, opium production in South America has created an explosive
increase in purity and decrease in prices for heroin in the US:
As you can see, wholesale
prices have been cut to a third of what they were just a decade ago,
reflected a greatly increased supply within the US. According to the
Drug Enforcement Agency's Domestic
Monitor Program the average purity of heroin in the US at the street
gone from a low of 3.6% in 1980 to 36.8% in 2000 (purity has been fairly
stable in recent years.)
The Prohibitionist Religion
We have been offered the
Prohibitionist's central belief, that making something illegal must greatly
reduce use, as a statement of Faith. We are simply expected to embrace
it as a 'self-evident' truth. Does Prohibition reduce drug use? "Of
course, it's obvious that it must!" But when examined in detail,
it's anything but obvious. 'Soft on drugs' nations have not been overrun
by drug abuse.
Fanatically anti-drug governments like the US have some of the most
out of control drug abuse problems on earth. We hemorrhage cash to
for a solution that's been more expensive than the problem, our prisons
are crammed, our rights and Constitution are trampled on, and for
A statement of faith that has never delivered on its claims. I can
find no evidence to support the conclusion that American-style
has had any beneficial impact on drug use or harm
to our society from drug use; indeed, prohibition has caused grievous
blind faith may be fine for a cult, but it's a wretched
basis for public policy.
Prohibition has already
reached its high-water mark; the perennial declarations
of various governments that they will 'win the drug war' within a certain
number of years are nothing more than ignorant delusions.
They cannot win the drug war because a large minority of people want drugs.
Any reduction in the supply merely increases the profits, motivating
and producers to escalate to ever-greater extremes of ingenuity and
violence to defend and expand their share of the trade.
An ambitious person
could spend a few hundred dollars on an airline ticket to Europe,
pick up a thousand 'ecstasy' tablets for a dollar or two each, Fed-Ex
them to an accomplice in the US (lovingly vacuum-packed and scrubbed
down to prevent detection by dogs), and sell them off stateside for
as much as $25+ a pill. Many people can't resist that sort of profit
potential, and as long as there are buyers, there will be people willing
to roll the dice for a chance at easy wealth. Trying to stop the drug
trade by attacking users is vicious and unproductive. Trying to stop
it by chasing smugglers and dealers (and even labs) is as pointless
as trying to piss up a flagpole; reduced supply = increased profits
= new recruits to the trade to restore supply. God himself couldn't
beat that market dynamic. Even the Communists were eventually bright
enough to realize that capitalism is an unstoppable force; why can't
figure it out?
It's time to end the lie. The
Prohibitionists have perpetuated their crimes against the American
people for far too
"The American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes criminal prohibition of drugs. Not
only is prohibition a proven failure as a drug control strategy, but
it subjects otherwise law-abiding citizens to arrest, prosecution
and imprisonment for what they do in private. In trying to enforce
the drug laws, the government violates the fundamental rights of privacy
and personal autonomy that are guaranteed by our Constitution."
-ACLU Position Paper
most Americans, demand to be safe at home and on the streets. Libertarians
would like all Americans to be healthy and free of drug dependence.
But drug laws don't help; they make things worse. The professional
politicians scramble to make names for themselves as tough anti-drug
warriors, while the experts agree that the "war
on drugs" has been lost, and could never be won. The tragic
victims of that war are your personal liberty and its companion,
responsibility. It's time to consider the re-legalization of drugs."
"The long federal
experiment in prohibition of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other
drugs has given us crime and corruption combined with a manifest failure
to stop the use of drugs or reduce their availability to children."
-The CATO Institute
"So long as large
sums of money are involved - and they are bound to be if drugs are
illegal - it is literally impossible to stop the traffic, or even
to make a serious reduction in its scope."
would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality
of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that would
accomplish so much to promote law and order?"
-Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist
have clearly failed to prevent widespread use of marijuana... Law
and health are two entirely separate issues."
-Bob DuPont, former head of the National Institute
on Drug Abuse
to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its
limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves."
-President Ronald Reagan
"Let justice be done, though the world
-Ferdinand I - Motto adopted in 1530s
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