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If it weren't for campaigning against drugs and sex, Amerikans would have no morals to fight for.


Plus the control of quality of drugs by the State.

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Prof. Becker, I couldn't agree more with you. Many thanks for sharing your views on this matter.

I strongly believe that the U.S. won't start taking the issue seriously until it's confronted with drug legalization south of the border. The cost of the drug wars on Mexico is indeed immense and the Mexican government is bound to fail in its military approach sooner or later; the impact of such failure will -- unfortunately for both Mexico AND the U.S. -- damage the Mexican social fabric terribly and with unpredictable consequences for both countries.

After 40+ years of violence Colombia has not won the war but instead it has come to "manage" it within tolerable levels. Important areas of the country still remain out of governmental control and drug production seems to be on the rise either within Colombian territory or in nearby areas across the borders with Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador or Brazil. The Colombian drug-trafficking business hasn't really disappeared or lost its might; unfortunately, it has only spread widely into neighboring countries.

Kind regards and thanks again for your post, Professor!


Fantastic post Professor Becker. Especially important observation about the flood of undocumented immigrants because of the violence caused by America's insatiable appetite.


From the book "AN AUTISTIC WORLD (1)"

Culture is everything that an individual does at a given time in a given place. We are what we do, not who we think we are. Each individual manifests himself in a different way, depending of what behavior he has acquired through his life, and society filters those behaviors and selects the ones that suit its members best at a particular time and place. The selection is based on a multitude of factors, but often its circumscribed to events emanating from the past which rely on known experiences. Men do not like to change their culture quickly because it would affect most aspects of their lives. At the same time, there is a constant adaptation in the way that individuals conduct themselves to keep up with changes in their environment. Some of those adaptations can be challenging for the individuals, even painful, due to the sacrifice that involves leaving behind memories of past events. But others can be easily accommodated, depending on the cleverness and the willingness of the people that demand change.
Ninety percent of what we do every day, like politics, religion, DRUGS, etc. is based on the repetition of conducts and traditions established throughout our lives. They represent the bridge that connects us to reason, and in which we founded our routine knowledge. If for whatever circumstance we need to change that bridge, we have to endure a process of adaptation that usually affects our entire disposition. What was normal, turns into oddity, because we have lost the reference on each step of our understanding, resolving in most cases to set up new ladders of knowledge.


Gary, the big problem here is the lack of credible partners in the drug business.

In the 30's, the Americans could turn to the Seagram and Bronfman families in Canada to control the legitimate trade in alcohol. Those were families the you could do business with.

But, after 30 years of "the war on drugs" the Americans find themselves unable to nominate a single drug cartel family that they can do business with.

Bit of a problem if you want to decriminalize the product.


Surely the Okrent's 'Last Call' offered the definitive analysis of the futility of so-called drug wars? The level of corruption that were created almost immediately was truly astounding. Here in the UK we have had the astonishing picture of our Justice Minister having to acknowledge that some criminals entered prison 'clean' & became addicts in prison!! If illegal drugs cannot be held at bay in a prison then what hope in the open society?

Sufi M

Very interesting post Professor Becker, very thorough and insightful! Keep up your analysis, always good to read.

The Glaring Facts

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Twenty five years ago when professors and spokesmen of any position would have been fired for showing the slightest doubt in "the war on drugs" Alaska's SC found in the Ravin decision that Alaska's (fairly high) privacy standard trumped the "state's interest" in small, personal use quantities of MJ in one's castle, thus "decriminalizing" it. Several problems remained as sellers (defined by sale and larger amounts) would still be charged as would those transporting outside the home. Results? perhaps a bit more and relaxed consumption, but seemingly not much.

For harder and more, provably, destructive drugs, the state's interest continued to trump that of the user.

Alaska's experience combined with what's taking place in CA makes it obvious (as it did to many a quarter century ago) that while far from harmless, MJ should join wine, beer, and other spirits as socially useful drugs that also can be abused and harmful. Legalizing, regulating, taxing and education seems the rational course for MJ.

For harder and more destructive drugs I chuckle wryly as our government seems able to stifle business just in its clumsiness...... today tourism comes quickly to mind with the security impediments, but is making no headway at all in killing the drug biz. As a mariner I don't chuckle much about the percentage of Coast Guard resources diverted from their normal mission. Economists must immediately understand that a "successful" interdiction does virtually nothing to dampen demand but simply increases price.

A mule or other participant who'd not "take a chance" at one price will surely take the chance at a higher price. As for price itself depressing demand? with addicts? Ya gotta be kidding! While taxing cigs to substantially higher priceslikely has slowed the addiction of price sensitive teens but has had much less effect on those hopelessly addicted.

As Becker points out the costs both to our nation and others has become enormous. Having failed so miserably on the supply side "war" has is it not time for our "leaders" to put equal or more resources into depressing demand?

The "economist" approach would seem that of continuing to make illegal importation sonmewhat costly and dangerous. We'd then make the "biz" a lot less profitable by spending less on prison time and more on a range of mental health services from treatment on demand, mental health treatment in general and perhaps even, low or no cost maintenance of addicts not quite ready to commit to kicking.

Perhaps our society will always have some percentage of drug users and self-destructive addicts, but if so, is it not better to supply them by inexpensive prescription here than to enrich and empower drug cartels both in the US and abroad?

We seem to take for granted that Mexico with a population double that Iraq, and Afghanistan combined, is a complacent country despite, as Becker notes, the rapidly rising drug violence and terrorist incidents born, one assumes, of dire economic desperation.

As with many of our problems, a small roomful of people could develop a rational plan, but as has been the case for decades what is to be done with the retro-politic of those in public office who fear being seen as "soft on drugs and crime" or fear of the "law 'n order" establishment and diverting "their" criminal punishment funding and and dollars for irrationally long incarcerations to humane treatment and rehabilitation.

One story? While Reagan and others objected to clean needle exchange that would have gone far to reduce the AIDs epidemic as "enabling", Vancouver, BC had outreach nurses on the streets with clean needles making the first contact with addicts and offering advice as to how to get help when they are ready.

We incarcerate our citizens at rates 10 times the rate of the civilized nations, even a higher rate than Russia. As crime is on par with other nations and gun deaths five times higher, is this wise use of our increasingly scarce public dollar? or make us more competitive?


It's surprising that Becker and Posner express support for legalizing drugs on a cursory economic analysis that overlooks the very high likelihood that most drug users are too addled to make rational choices in the economic sense. That's why they often turn to crime, by the way.


I don't think our profs counted on addicts making what non-addicts would consider rational choices. "Rational" for an addict in the immediate sense is "scoring" and "maybe" kicking ....... someday.

No, instead we're exploring whether society is behaving rationally by expecting better results from the Nixon era "drug war" that focuses almost entirely on intercepting supply -- thus raising price -- that ensures profitability for the cartels and does create a supply problem for the addicted often solved only by engaging in further criminal behavior....... the selling and promoting of drugs being one avenue.

Consequences of Illicit Drug Use

The social and health costs to society of illicit drug use are staggering. Drug-related illness, death, and crime cost the nation approximately $66.9 billion. Every man, woman, and child in America pays nearly $1,000 annually to cover the expense of unnecessary health care, extra law enforcement, auto accidents, crime, and lost productivity resulting from substance abuse.25 Illicit drug use hurts families, businesses, and neighborhoods; impedes education; and chokes criminal justice, health, and social service systems.

(Seems there is an error above: While the $67 bn fits with Becker's $41 bn in an area where costs are hard to pin down it's more like $200 per capita or $500/HH) but the author has good info:


I wondered how much larger was the drug problem in the US than in Europe and found the following:

"Americans are much more likely to have used cannabis (41% vs. 17%); the European country with the highest use was the UK at 35%.

American students are much more likely to have used any illicit drug other than cannabis (23% vs. 6%). For example, 6% of US students have used ecstasy at least once in their lives vs. 1% in Europe."

Seems the worst thing a politician could lead of with is "Well when I was in Europe.... or the UK........ " but considering we've double their student MJ use, four times the harder drug use, similar rates of common crime, but 5 times their rate of gun related killing and spend fortunes trying and locking our folks up a ten times their rate for inhumanly long sentences; maybe we ought to see what we might learn from them?

malcolm kyle

While bullets fly into El Paso, bodies pile up in the streets of Juarez, and thugs with gold-plated AK-47s and albino tiger pens are beheading federal officials and dissolving their torsos in vats of acid, here are some facts concerning the peaceful situation in Holland. --Please save a copy and use it as a reference when debating prohibitionists who claim the exact opposite concerning reality as presented here below:

Cannabis-coffee-shops are not only restricted to the Capital of Holland, Amsterdam. They can be found in more than 50 cities and towns across the country. At present, only the retail sale of five grams is tolerated, so production remains criminalized. The mayors of a majority of the cities with coffeeshops have long urged the national government to also decriminalize the supply side.

A poll taken earlier this year indicated that some 50% of the Dutch population thinks cannabis should be fully legalized while only 25% wanted a complete ban. Even though 62% of the voters said they had never taken cannabis. An earlier poll also indicated 80% opposing coffee shop closures.

It is true that the number of coffee shops has fallen from its peak of around 2,500 throughout the country to around 700 now. The problems, if any, concern mostly marijuana-tourists and are largely confined to cities and small towns near the borders with Germany and Belgium. These problems, mostly involve traffic jams, and are the result of cannabis prohibition in neighboring countries. Public nuisance problems with the coffee shops are minimal when compared with bars, as is demonstrated by the rarity of calls for the police for problems at coffee shops.

While it is true that lifetime and past-month use rates did increase back in the seventies and eighties, the critics shamefully fail to report that there were comparable and larger increases in cannabis use in most, if not all, neighboring countries which continued complete prohibition.

According to the World Health Organization only 19.8 percent of the Dutch have used marijuana, less than half the U.S. figure.
In Holland 9.7% of young adults (aged 15 to 24) consume soft drugs once a month, comparable to the level in Italy (10.9%) and Germany (9.9%) and less than in the UK (15.8%) and Spain (16.4%). Few transcend to becoming problem drug users (0.44%), well below the average (0.52%) of the compared countries.

The WHO survey of 17 countries finds that the United States has the highest usage rates for nearly all illegal substances.

In the U.S. 42.4 percent admitted having used marijuana. The only other nation that came close was New Zealand, another bastion of get-tough policies, at 41.9 percent. No one else was even close. The results for cocaine use were similar, with the U.S. again leading the world by a large margin.

Even more striking is what the researchers found when they asked young adults when they had started using marijuana. Again, the U.S. led the world, with 20.2 percent trying marijuana by age 15. No other country was even close, and in Holland, just 7 percent used marijuana by 15 -- roughly one-third of the U.S. figure.

In 1998, the US Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey claimed that the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands. That’s drugs, he explained. The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics immediately issued a special press release explaining that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate.

Here is a very recent article by a psychiatrist from Amsterdam, exposing Drug Czar misinformation

Now let's look at a comparative analysis of the levels of cannabis use in two cities: Amsterdam and San Francisco, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health May 2004,

The San Francisco prevalence survey showed that 39.2% of the population had used cannabis. This is 3 times the prevalence found in the Amsterdam sample

Source: Craig Reinarman, Peter D.A. Cohen and Hendrien L. Kaal, The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy

Moreover, 51% of people who had smoked cannabis in San Francisco reported that they were offered heroin, cocaine or amphetamine the last time they purchased cannabis. In contrast, only 15% of Amsterdam residents who had ingested marijuana reported the same conditions. Prohibition is the ‘Gateway Policy’ that forces cannabis seekers to buy from criminals who gladly expose them to harder drugs.

The indicators of death, disease and corruption are even much better in the Netherlands than in Sweden for instance, a country praised by UNODC for its so called successful drug policy.

Here's Antonio Maria Costa doing his level best to avoid discussing the success of Dutch drug policy:

The Netherlands also provides heroin on prescription under tight regulation to about 1500 long-term heroin addicts for whom methadone maintenance treatment has failed.

The Dutch justice ministry announced, last year, the closure of eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty. There's simply not enough criminals

For further information, kindly check out this very informative FAQ provided by Radio Netherlands: http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/faq-soft-drugs-netherlands
or go to this page: http://www.rnw.nl/english/dossier/Soft-drugs

Rok Spruk

The American war on drugs is a failed experiment. Even though continuous public policy efforts have been pursued since president Nixon initiated the war on drugs back in 1972, drug consumption increased. Alongside dogmatic policy measures to curtail the number of drug users, the persistence of violence and crime rates continued. The prohibition of drugs resembled the same economic effects as the prohibition of alcohol back in early 1930s.

The prevalence of drug dealing is strongly associated with poor education performance and low incomes. This combination reflects low opportunity costs of time, hence low earnings in the course of life-cycle. The social cost of drug war is enormous measured in terms of future value. Once external effects of drug trade, such as violence and intimidation, are taken into account, the total cost of drug dealing increases exponentially.

The prevalence of drug cartels has not diminished since the eruption of war on drugs. The innate experience of Latin American countries affirms the conjecture on the failure of war on drugs. In fact, an immediate end of the war on drugs would decrease the average rate of return in drug cartels and reduce the producer surplus currently enjoyed by global drug producers. Hence, resources would be re-allocated into non-drug sector.

I agree with professor Becker's contention that ending drug war would reduce illegal opportunities for high-school dropouts. It would possibly increase high-school graduation rate, leading to lower rates of neighborhood crime and violence.

A bold legalization and decriminalization of soft drugs would immediately result in the reduction of social costs of drug consumption. In addition, the share of drug users would decrease. A brief look at the international comparison of regular soft drug consumption reveals that low rates of regular soft drug use are most likely to be present in the countries where the use of soft drugs (marijuana, cannabis) has been decriminalized such as Portugal and Netherlands. Recently Glenn Greenwald demonstrated how soft drug decriminalization in Portugal resulted in a decline of the proportion of 15-19 year old regular drug users.


The notion that ending the drug war could increase high school graduation rates is laughable, unless one also presumes that graduation standards are lowered to the level at which kids who are stoned on marijuana can manage algebra and coherent writing.


Kyle and Spruk: Good informative contributions! While I don't have numbers to support, our Alaska experience with decrim MJ seems not to have increased the number of users. I'm sure it did lower the number of prison inmates.

BTW the "Zero Tolerance" of HW Bush and Wm Bennett was a disaster for many in Alaska. They'd have the CG board a crabber or 50 million factory trawler and upon ANY small quantity of anything, force the boat to travel hundreds of miles to port where a seizure process would extort a massive penalty before the boat could return to the grounds. Bit selective too as a skipper of one of these large vessels would have as little control over some crewman or a visitor leaving drugs aboard as would an airline, but! airplanes were not included in the "zero tolerance" program.

Observer-- Agreed the HS drop out rate that is a HUGE drag on our nation is a complex problem including the not so often mentioned problem of property tax funding that leaves "those areas" with substandard funding, over-crowding and poor facilities.

One aspect of ending the failed "drug war" that would seem to improve graduation rates would be that of not providing "jobs" for those opting to bail out of school in favor of the mean streets of both our areas of urban decay and impoverished rural areas where brain destroying meth distribution seems to be employing increasing numbers, and not long after, packing our already crowded prisons.

Worse? Since jobs for our youth are so scarce in any case, employers are especially reluctant to take a chance on a kid with a record, what is the incentive to return to school, get a GED or go on to the secondary education that has almost become a requirement to step on the lowest rung today?

An alternative? Instead of warehousing such youth in buildings where a life of crime is the norm, why not respond to first offenders with an educational path and a better chance to become a productive citizen?


That is a very interesting point about drop-out rates in poor communities. I think you can take it a little further--not only does the drug trade provide a reason for poor kids to drop out of school, but it also gives them extra incentive to commit other crimes and thuggery. Since the drug trade is illicit, kids must signal that they are thugs before they can hope to enter the business. How does one signal that he is a bad guy, and thus worthy of being trusted as a drug dealer? Simple- become a bad guy. Drop out of school, get tatoos, commit other offences, etc.

The damage extends past just poor kids dropping out of school, but should include other activities that signal their willingness to deal.


Kevin: Yes......... something does seem to happen after the first "successful" violation of the law. I remember how important the first few bucks I earned were as a young teen and reflect upon the temptations of ANY buck in regions of next to no legal opportunity.

A sad, sad thing that in this richest of nations we're still being held back by grinding poverty in both "inner cities" and rural townships. ............ and seem "incurious" as to why we have to lock our folks up at ten times the rate of the civilized nations.

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To advance graduation rates would be that of not supplying "jobs" for those opting to bail out of school supportive the signify roads of both our localities of built-up breakdown and deprived country localities where mind decimating meth circulation appears to be using expanding figures, and not long after, cramming our currently congested prisons.


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There is absolutley no way in hell you are a real professor. This article is pathetically using the same strategy they did when they outlawed the drug in 1937.. Im glad that the people who read your "blog" are far to ignorant to do anything with this load of shit you are reporting. This is AMERICA. If you got a problem with mexican drug cartels than it is irrelevnat fact to the article. I hope any dipshit who reads this actually checks there facts because my GOD are you full of shit Becker. I couldnt disagree with you more and understand why you have an uncredited blog. People like you will suffer in the hands of marijuana users who know more on the subject than this fake professor ever would. get a fuckin clue.

Shim Sham

Judge Posner is a traitor who advocates that illegal aliens take over the United States and that airline passenger be killed. Judge Posner should be executed along with the rest of the judges in the Seventh Circuit.


No war will not help...while there is profit to be and drugs

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