Comment by Mark Kleiman

 The benefits of prohibiting, or otherwise regulating, any drug are the
 avoided costs of whatever drug abuse it prevents. So to know whether the
 benefits of prohibition are few or many, we would have to know how bad
 various drug abuse problems would be in the absence of prohibition. Nobody

FeedbagWe do know that illicit cocaine today is twenty times as expensive as licit
 cocaine on the pharmaceutical market. It’s possible that a 95% reduction
 in price wouldn’t boost consumption. I’ll believe it’s likely when Santa
NadelmannClaus and the Tooth Fairy tell me so.

 Alcohol prohibition never succeeded in making alcohol as expensive, as hard
 to find, or as socially risky to consume as cocaine prohibition has made
 cocaine. Even so, it put a major dent in cirrhosis of the liver. More
 recently, the temporary prohibition of alcohol in Barrow, Alaska, made a
 dramatic difference in illness, injury, and crime.

 Denying that prohibition has substantial benefits encourages the illusion
 that we could repeal the drug laws and replace them with nothing at all.
 This is convenient for those who would otherwise be faced with the
 formidable task of designing the replacement control regime. I argued, in
 a paper in Daedalus three years ago, that the design task for refined
 cocaine was highly intractable. I’m still awaiting a response.

Return to the Dialog