Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2014
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2014 Steve Lafleur
Author: Steve Lafleur



Does caffeine lead to cocaine use? Obviously not. But if caffeine were
outlawed, a black market would emerge. Drug gangs, which are highly
skilled at operating outside of the law and have pre-existing
distribution channels, would begin trafficking illegal caffeine pills.
If people were forced to use black market distribution chains to
obtain a mild stimulant, such as caffeine, they would almost certainly
be more likely to opt for a stronger stimulant, such as cocaine.

Either people deal with drug dealers, or they don't. If they do, the
dealers are likely to try to upsell them on other products. Drug
dealers are like any other salespeople: They want to obtain the
highest profit margin possible. Cocaine sells at a much higher margin
than caffeine pills would, even if caffeine were outlawed. Even if
most people resisted the dealers' insistence that cocaine would
provide a better experience, some nondrug users would try it; some
would even become addicted. Caffeine use would likely decline, while
use of cocaine and other illicit drugs would increase.

The above hypothetical is analogous to the prohibition of marijuana.
People often refer to marijuana as a gateway drug that leads to people
using stronger drugs. Yet there is no intrinsic gateway effect from
marijuana. But once you're buying marijuana on the black market, it
isn't much of a step to purchase psychedelic mushrooms, cocaine or
ecstasy. Once you have a dealer, he or she will try to sell you other
drugs. Marijuana isn't a gateway drug; but black market marijuana is.

Legalizing marijuana would seriously impact the bottom line of many
criminal enterprises, as it accounts for around half of global drug
gang profits.

There's no doubt these gangs would try to make up for this by pushing
the drugs that remain illegal. However, legalized marijuana would
disrupt the entire black market, since dealers would no longer be able
to lure customers in by selling them weed, only to sell them something
else later. They would have a much more difficult time engaging
customers to begin with. And if dealing becomes unprofitable, gangs
will have a hard time finding dealers to buy their wholesale products.
While marijuana use would likely increase (though it actually
decreased in Portugal after decriminalization), gang profits would
decrease and the availability of other drug would go down as well.

One might argue from the above logic that all drugs should be

That would be simplistic. Some drugs may pose such a threat to users
and society that the trade-off of allowing gangs to profit off them
from selling a small amount is preferable to legalizing them, even if
that only means a marginal increase in usage. Drugs such as crystal
meth fall into this category. A true harm-reduction approach to drugs
would weigh both the costs of drug usage, and the cost of prohibition.
Both can be substantial. We need a rational approach to making these

One way to go about this would be to create three categories of drugs.
The first would be milder substances that are somewhat harmful, but
are also widely used. Hard liquor, cigarettes and marijuana are
substances that would occupy this category. The harm from the
substances is less than the destruction resulting from prohibition.
These drugs should be restricted to adult use and should carry
specific excise taxes. The second category would include drugs that
can be very harmful to users, but rarely fatal, and rarely cause
significant externalities. The prime example is cocaine. The harm
caused by cocaine rarely extends beyond users and their families.
These drugs should be decriminalized, so that problem users can seek
treatment without fear of legal repercussions.

The third category would include drugs that are extremely harmful to
the users and society as a whole, such as crystal meth, and should
remain illegal. While the sale of these drugs would continue to line
the pockets of drug gangs, the harm from even a modest increase in
people using them would be substantial. Gangs will always exist. But
strangling their most benign revenue sources would reduce their
ability to finance distribution of the worst drugs, as well as other
evils, such as human trafficking.

Drug policy is often considered the domain of morality. It shouldn't

Issues of personal morality should not be legislated. But when public
safety is at stake, it can make sense to crack down on certain drugs.
A utilitarian, harm reduction approach to drug policy would be a vast
improvement over the reckless, moralistic approach we have now.

Steve Lafleur

is a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
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