Wednesday, November 29, 2006

London Sunday Times on drug legalization

Columnist Simon Jenkins of the London Sunday Times has jumped into the debate on legalizing drugs. He really makes one major mistake. He says "The drug market is totally unregulated and as a result totally dangerous." He wants drugs legalized and on that he is correct.

What Jenkins means is that because drugs are illegal there is no no regulation of the market. But in fact there is total regulation and that is what makes them so much worse than they would be. The illegality of drugs distorts normal market feedback loops. Illegal markets are worse than legal markets because state intervention (the illegality) prevents the markets from functioning well.

For instance illegal immigrants use dangerous people smugglers to enter a country. These smugglers know the illegals can't run to court or the police if mistreated. Bad employers can take advantage of illegals as well. The illegal is denied the normal legal protections that exist. It is not that there are no regulations but that market solutions are stifled in prohibited markets.

Illegal drugs mean that criminals run the market instead of businessmen. And the more vicious the repression the more vicious the criminals who get attracted to the business. Putting drug users in touch with criminals isn't exactly going to make the user better off. And if the dealer adds something to "cut" the drugs, which happens to be dangerous, it isn't as if the user can go to the police and say he was poisoned by his local drug dealer.

The Jenkins article is certainly worth reading and worth heeding. The point that the drug market is dangerous because it is unregulated is just wrong. But that is a flaw you can overlook once you know it is there.