Tradeoffs

Cheap, low-quality methamphetamine from environmentally toxic kitchen-table labs, or expensive, high-quality methamphetamine from Mexico? You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

Policies that make pseudoephedrine harder to buy in order to deprive methamphetamine cooks of a key ingredient can indeed reduce small-scale domestic production, but the result is increased supply of a more expensive and more potent version of the same drug from Mexico. The environmental impact is less, but the social impact may well be greater.

It’s quite possible that timing made a big difference. If Sudafed supplies had been restricted before home-cooked meth had built a user base for the drug, the Mexican import trade might not have developed. And that may still be true in states where meth isn’t yet a big problem. But of course where meth isn’t yet a big problem, it’s hard to mobilize the political will to annoy the retail druggists.

If you think the moral of the story is that drug abuse control policy is always futile, I can’t agree. But if you think the moral of the story is that drug abuse control policy is hard, I’m with you.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com