The global war on drugs is failing, new research suggests, as the price of heroin, cocaine and cannabis has fallen while their purity has increased.
Using seven sets of government drug surveillance data, a team of Canadian and U.S. researchers reviewed drug supply in the United States, Europe and Australia and drug production in regions such as Latin America, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.
They found that illegal drugs have become cheaper while their potency has increased, indicating that efforts to control "the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."
"During the past two decades, the supply of major illegal drugs has increased, as measured through a general decline in the prices and a general increase in the purity of illegal drugs in a variety of settings," said the study, which was published by BMJ Open, an open-access journal published by the British Medical Journal.
The war on drugs is a supply side intervention; that is, it's an attempt to decrease the supply. Emphasis on attempt. A supply decrease tends to have two effects, 1) Decrease the quantity consumed, B) Increase the price. Since prices are falling, it's obvious that supply is not decreasing. The alternative explanations? A) Supply is increasing, 2) Demand is decreasing.
"The punitive prohibitionist approach to global drug control has proven remarkably costly, ineffective and counterproductive," said Ethan Nadelmann, director of the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance.
"It has generated extraordinary levels of violence, crime and corruption while failing to reduce the availability and use of psychoactive drugs."
Well, I guess that rules out 2). So now what? I can see two alternatives: i) Demand side interventions (take a public health approach to try to reduce demand), or 3) legalize, regulate and tax. While I'm not ready to fully buy into 3) yet--recommending drug legalization makes me feel icky--I'm not convinced i) will be anything more than an ineffective moneypit.