Allison Schrager: The Economic Case for the US to Legalize All Drugs

Here is a link to Allison Schrager’s well-written and thoughtful column in favor of drug legalization. My reflections on her column below are not intended to be read on their own, but only after you have read Allison’s column.

I agree with Allison that we need to legalize the production and sale of drugs in order to take revenue, and therefore power, away from criminal gangs. But I think it is important that we do whatever we can to drive down the usage of dangerous drugs consistent with taking the drug trade out of the hands of criminals:

  • Taxes on dangerous drugs as high as possible without encouraging large-scale smuggling;
  • Age limits on drug purchases as strict as consistent with keeping the drug trade out of the hands of illegal gangs;
  • Free drug treatment, financed by those taxes;
  • Evidence-based public education campaigns against drug use, financed by those taxes;
  • Demonization in the media and in polite company of those who (now legally) sell dangerous drugs;
  • Mandatory, gruesome warnings like those we have for cigarettes;
  • Widespread mandatory drug testing and penalties for use of dangerous drugs–but not for drug possession;
  • Strict penalties for driving under the influence of drugs.

Notice that in order to keep the drug trade from going underground, prosecutors must not be allowed to use evidence that an individual purchased or possessed drugs as evidence that he or she used drugs. Evidence of use would have to come from some form of drug testing or from behavior.

Since drug use would still be illegal, social disapproval of drug use would still be encoded into law. But under this policy, any reemergence of illegal gangs selling drugs would be reason for a course correction liberalizing drug sales to an even greater degree.

Despite all the efforts I advocate above to discourage use of dangerous drugs, legalizing the production, sale and possession of drugs would have serious costs. Those costs have to be set against what I consider the even more serious costs of the drug war itself.