Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Ifyou want to know how to vote this weekend, ask a gangster

If you want to know how to vote this weekend on legalisation, then ask yourself how the gangs would like you to vote.

Politicians regularly talk about going to war on gangs. But you can’t talk sensibly about a War on Gangs without also talking about the politicians' ongoing War on Drugs. Because, as the prohibition of alcohol proved so conclusively in America—coinciding with the birth of big criminal gangs there – where you have prohibition, you have a ready income stream for criminal organisations

Drugs provide the gangs' primary income stream. If you want a real war on gangs, then rip away this secure income stream. (And if you'd rather not have gangs deciding what drugs your children are going to dabble with, because they will, then vote "legalise" to remove this secure monopoly.)

Challenged on this point a few years ago, Judith Collins accepted that gangs monopolised the drug trade, from which comes their primary income, yet bizarrely insisted that if marijuana were legalised they would instead get into legalised prostitution and harder drugs like methamphetamine.

But this is nonsense. First, a Justice Ministry study found that during the in-depth interviews of 656 sex workers “there was no mention of gang involvement or coercion.” Overseeing the research, the Ministry’s Prostitution Law Reform Committee considered “could not find any evidence of a specific link between crime and prostitution.” Legalisation has removed gangs from this trade, without offering any mechanism for their return.

And as thousands of current and former policemen who support drug regulation rather than prohibition argue—including Scotland Yard’s former head of drug policing: it is prohibition itself,  they confirm, that leads to more potent drugs. Whereas legalisation does the reverse. The argument of these on-the-ground experts can be quickly summarised:
  • prohibition doesn't get drugs off the street. The government can't even get rid of drugs in the controlled environment of a prison, so they certainly can't get rid of them from the relative freedom of our streets. Which means…. 
  • outlawing drugs doesn't make them go away; it simply puts them in the hands of outlaws, and the in the hands of the soft targets on whom the outlaws focus. Which means… 
  • the quality of drugs is set by the outlaws, at a price premium set by Prohibition; and because ...
  • prohibition limits demand a little, but it limits supply a lot, then as every economics student knows this pushes up prices a lot, and gives remaining dealers a profit on a plate. 
  • So: prohibition means people don't stop consuming drugs they just change the drugs they're consuming. And the price they're paying to consume them.
Here, Collins and other could benefit from getting to grips with what Milton Friedman called The Iron Law of Prohibition: which says that the more you actively prohibit drugs, then what you are actively encouraging on the streets is the more virulent, the most dangerous, drugs.

Friedman proved, for example, that prohibition changes the way people use drugs, making many people consume stronger, more dangerous variants than they would in a legal market.

Consider this: During alcohol prohibition, moonshine eclipsed beer. For the same reason, during drug prohibition, crack will always eclipse coke. Friedman gave a name to this phenomenon, calling this curious historical fact “the Iron Law of Prohibition”: the harder the police crack down on a substance, the more concentrated the substance will become.

Why? If you run a bootleg bar in Prohibition-era Chicago and you are going to make a gallon of alcoholic drink, you could make a gallon of beer, which one person can drink and constitutes one sale – or you can make a gallon of poitin, which is so strong it takes thirty people to drink it and constitutes thirty sales. Prohibition of alcohol encourages you to produce and provide the stronger, more potent drink

This is why, during Prohibition, gangs were not selling watered-down beer -- they were making their fortunes through sales of bathtub gin.

And just as bathtub gin eclipses beer, under Prohibition, so crack eclipses coke. If you are a drug dealer with a kilo of cocaine, say, you can sell it to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more lucrative, and you will have your customer crawling back to you for more in a few hours! Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug.

For Friedman, the solution was stark: take drugs back from criminals and hand them instead to doctors, pharmacists, and off-licenses. 


Chronic drug use will be a problem whatever we do, but adding a vast layer of criminality, making the drugs more toxic, and squandering millions on enforcing prohibition only exacerbates the problem, and helps raise the profits for gangs.

If politicians want to talk about a war on gangs, then start with a war on their income.

After all, it’s working exactly that way in Mexico, where legalising American weed has been killing off drug cartels.

In fact, as both Ethan Nadelmann of the N.Y.C.-based Drug Policy Alliance and Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Group point out: drug legalisation is pretty much the worst thing that could happen to organized crime.*

So if you want to know how to vote this weekend, ask a gangster.

PS: for those not familiar with Uncle Milt’s Iron Law of Prohibition, here’s a handy summary below. 


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