Violence and street drug markets

The violent drug markets in New York City are now the markets for marijuana and untaxed cigarettes.

Light blogging today; I’m in New York for a conference on drug markets and violent crime.

Most interesting new idea: In New York City, where selling cocaine is a felony but selling cannabis or untaxed cigarettes is a misdemeanor, intentive street-level drug law enforcement has succeeded in driving the cocaine market indoors, resulting in a substantial decrease in violence. However, dealers in pot and smuggled cigarettes aren’t afraid of the cops, so they have kept doing business outdoors.

Result: substantial violence around sales of pot and untaxed cigarettes. (As usual, the violence is often ascribed to “turf battles” or business disputes, but in fact turns out mostly to be routine interpersonal disputes among angry young men with guns.)

[Note to supporters of replacing drug prohibition with taxation and regulation: the untaxed-cigarette problem suggests one limit to that strategy, since a high tax can generate as nasty an illicit market as a prohibition does.]

The right policy response to the problem isn’t obvious. Making it a felony to sell pot or untaxed cigarettes seems extreme. But how else can those dealers be forced to keep their heads down, thus avoiding violence and neighborhood disruption?

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: