Demolition of the argument (if you can call it that) is left as an exercise for the reader. A few hints, just to get you started:
1. Alcohol – the drug we decided to legalize and regulate – kills about 100,000 people a year: several times as many as all the illicit drugs combined.
2. The notion that there’s a set of taxes and regulations that would avoid creating a big illicit market while not increasing drug abuse substantially doesn’t pass the giggle test. (Licit pharmaceutical-grade cocaine costs about a tenth as much as street cocaine. So legalization means either a huge price drop or a set of taxes crying out for profitable evasion, and thus requiring enforcement.)
3. Counting all the overdoses as costs of prohibition would make sense – if no one ever died of alcohol poisoning or overdosed on prescdription drugs (often mixed with alcohol).
4. Yes, street gangs do some drug dealing. But it’s absurd to imagine that the gang killings would disappear if the drug market became legal.
Sometimes I think that the legalizers and the drug warriors have a secret arms control treaty, in which each side renounces the use of factually and logically sound arguments.
Update Pete Guither, as usual, either can’t or won’t understand the point. He agrees that the nonsense numbers in the Esquire argument are “a bit of hyperbole” but argues that “the other side” makes stuff up as well. That, of course, is exactly what I said: there’s a competition in inventing facts and concocting false arguments between two completely unreasonable groups of people, and between them they’ve managed to virtually monopolize the drug policy debate.
Guither can’t understand why I’m hostile to the drug-legalization movement, since I favor a form of cannabis legalization myself. But my objection isn’t to the claim that some currently forbidden drugs ought to be made legally available to some people under some conditions for some non-medical use.
My objection is to the claim that there’s a hideous monster out there called “prohibition,” and that the main drug policy task is to slay that monster with the magic sword of “taxation and regulation.” That claim is just as stupid as the drug-warrior claim that there’s a hideous monster out there called “drugs” and that the main drug-policy task is to slay that monster with the magic sword of a “a drug-free society.”
In the real world, drug consumption responds to price, and the consumption of heavy users is more responsive than the consumption of casual users, because heavy users spend a bigger fraction of their income on drugs. In the real world, prohibition increases price. Therefore, an end to prohibition would decrease price, and therefore increase consumption, especially heavy consumption. In the real world, alcohol and cocaine (like any depressant-stimulant pair) are economic complements: using more of one leads to using more of the other, and therefore a price drop for one leads to a consumption increase for the other. The legalizer rant consists mostly of ignoring those simple realities.
Guither’s post is headed “Where Kleiman gets annoyed once again that people are having a discussion.” Well, as Barack Obama said about the war in Iraq, I’m not against discussions; I’m against dumb discussions that substitute slogans for facts and emotion for analysis.