Legalization Won’t Kill the Cartels

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. —H. L. Mencken

I’ve always been a little skeptical of arguments that legalizing drugs will end drug related crime as though it’s self-evident.

This NY Times commentary makes the case that cartels are really organized crime groups and they will just find other ways to generate revenue.

Over the last year or two it seems most of the arguments for legalization can be lumped into two categories:

  1. stop locking addicts up; and
  2. legalize and tax drug sales and fill state coffers with new tax revenue.

It seems to me that the latter of these has some implications for drug crime. If we ever legalized and taxed it, I suspect that the tax would be very high to reduce use (use by young people in particular) and to satisfy all of the typical “sin tax” motivations. It seems very likely to me that this would create a grey market for addicts who would be consuming the lion’s share of the drugs.

In reference to the former, is legalization necessary to end this? Could sentencing laws be changed? Or, are there ways to get law enforcement to make it a lower priority?

Finally, we do have a legal and regulated drug market—prescription drugs. And, they’re the fastest growing segment of the drug problem in the states. And, they’re currently associated with high rates of OD. And, it’s increasingly associated with crime. And, they’ve surpassed marijuana as the drug most often used by someone trying drugs for the first time. And, they’ve become a significant problem with teens.

This is not an argument for the status quo, but meant to challenge suggestions that we have two choices (status quo or legalization) and that legalization would be a great thing.

 

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