A study published in the British Medical Journal finds that the prices of illegal drugs have generally declined, while their purity has increased over the past twenty years. Researchers from the Canada-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy reviewed two decades’ worth of global drug surveillance data, finding that the supply of major illegal drugs has increased, as measured through a decline in the price. For example, the price of opiates has gone down by 74 percent and cocaine by 51 percent. Meanwhile, there has been a corresponding increase in the purity of illegal drugs.
“These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the war on drugs has failed,” said study co-author Dr. Evan Wood, Scientific Chair of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at the University of British Columbia. “We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts, and consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”
More and more countries are legalising weed
It reflects the trend that, in recent years, more and more countries have legalised soft drugs in one way or another. This applies mostly to the sale and consumption of cannabis. In America for example, 17 federal states and the capital Washington DC have authorised the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes.
From January 1, 2014, cannabis will become legal when bought for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington state. According to Bloomberg, legalization of marijuana may draw as much as $2.1 billion in revenue for the states from new taxes in five years.
Uruguay has chosen to completely legalise cannabis.
Legalisation does not depend on the "harmful/harmless" debate
For a long time, the debate over the legalisation of marijuana has no longer been focused on the possible dangers of its consumption, but rather on the effective regularisation of all factors related to drugs, both in terms of health issues, and economic benefits. So, why is it misleading to always talk and think in terms of “harmful and harmless” dichotomy?
Legalisation isn’t about declaring the harm (or lack of harm) of the concerned substance, but an attempt for better-suited regularisation. Since, before putting marijuana legally into circulation, there were serious medical, social and economic issues to take into consideration.
The vote for legalisation of cannabis in the US in 2012 arose from the continuous and increasing spread of cannabis consumption. So the first of the three main arguments for legalisation lies here.
One health argument in the US was that, in spite of all possible health risks, marijuana is nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco. Yet, in spite of this, these two recreational drugs are being legally bought and sold.
Another major argument was that marijuana sold in the streets is often of very bad quality; it can contain pollutants and other materials that are dangerous for the health. Legalisation and state-controlled trade could help these dangers to disintegrate, which would be a further positive effect: unlike dealers, who had sold to minors, shops are strictly not allowed to serve them.
Surveys have pointed out that it’s easier for students in the USA to buy marijuana than cigarettes – the trafficking of which is strictly regulated – and because of this it was decided that legal marijuana would only be accessible to those over the age of 21, while consumption in public areas would be prohibited.
The income from sales of legal cannabis in Washington is mostly redistributed: $125,000 (USD) will be given to fund research; $50,000 (USD) will go to social and health reports; $5,000 (USD) for web-based prevention; and $1.5 million (USD) will be given to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), from which 15 percent will be spent on drug treatment, 10 percent on prevention, 59 percent on the Washington Healthy Program and 5 percent on communal accommodation.
The state whittles down its junkies
The third, and the most important, argument from the angle of the state is an economic and criminal one. Many legalisation supporters argue that legalisation could put an end to decades of drug wars. Without it, however, marijuana business makes some organised crime groups who are vested in arms trafficking, money laundering and kidnapping, wealthier.
Moreover, we’re not talking about a small amount of money: as noted above, in Washington and Colorado alone, a $2.1 billion (USD) income has been estimated. On the contrary, in terms of missed potential marijuana income Spain is estimated to be losing out on €177 million in tax revenue every year while in the UK this amount is estimated at £1.25 billion.
Mark Barton, one of Britain’s most successful officers, recently published his opinion in The Guardian newspaper.
In this article, he argues that the criminalisation of trade has caused the loss of several billion pounds of revenue so far.
“I have recognised that it is an indisputable truth that drugs are bad. Occasionally, a retired colleague advocates a change, but mostly politicians, professionals and the media collude in the fiction that we are winning the war on drugs, or if not, that we still have to fight it in the same way,” he wrote.
As an example, Barton brought up prohibition in 1920s USA. The Mob’s sinister rise to prominence was largely funded through its supply of a prohibited drug – alcohol. Due to unpredictable and strict regulation, the mafia took control of trade. The situation only came under control once alcohol was legalised again.
“Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available. I think addiction to anything – be it drugs, alcohol gambling or anything else – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition just hands revenue streams to villains.”
According to Barton’s theory, hard drugs should be provided directly from the state to dependents – which does not mean the legalisation of hard drugs, but rather access to them in a controlled environment, with access to health care.
If it were to succeed and the drug trade was no longer monopolised by criminals, they would be cut off from one of their main sources of revenue. Furthermore, they may also lose their “street cred” in teenagers’ eyes. With the quick money they earn from drugs, some local gang leaders are considered almost heroes today. However, if they lose control of the drugs market, both their income and popularity may drastically reduce.