The War on Drugs

Like most of our elected wars, the war on drugs is producing more costs than benefits. In the United States, those drugs that were around for the last one to two hundred years have been legal at times and illegal at other times. There was no significant difference in the recorded use of these drugs when they were legal and when they were not (the data has to be rather sketchy, however). So there has been no measurable benefit.

The costs of outlawing drugs, however, have been enormous. The large expenditures on police, armies, courts, jails are nothing compared with the costs to society (on both sides of our Southern border) of creating the large criminal industry that grows, refines, transports, and markets these drugs and the lawlessness that accompanies it. Over the last thirty years 50,000 deaths have been attributed to drug related violence in Mexico alone. The Presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico are all now calling for a reconsideration of this war as an effective approach to dealing with the harm of some of these drugs.

As George Will puts it:

Another good article in the Washington Post:

Marijuana should be regulated like tobacco and cocaine and opium should be regulated like alcohol. We seem to be moving in the right direction on this issue but too slowly.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

2 thoughts on “The War on Drugs”

  1. Dear Warren, I cannot agree more with this argument of legalizationan and personal responsibility. The stats that you mention (50K deads in Mexico over the padt 30 years) seems to be off. I reckon it is substantially higher. Good topic.

  2. You are absolutely right. I used to think that governments were stupid, not having learned anything from prohibition of alcoholic beverages, or for pandering to the same extremist bigots. Today, however, I suspect that the black money of the traffic has bought too many electoral campaigns and corrupt too many people to make possible an effective discussion on decriminalization.

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