The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 20, 2006


One alternative to drug prohibition is decriminalization, which means eliminating criminal penalties for possession while maintaining penalties against trafficking. Many critics of prohibition advocate decriminalization rather than outright legalization.

Decriminalization does reduce the legal consequences of prohibition for drug users. So, it is plausibly a step in the right direction.

But decriminalization does not eliminate the black market for drugs, since trafficking is still illegal. Thus violence, low product quality, corruption, redistributions to criminals, erosion of civil liberties, foregone tax revenues, and other ills of black markets are likely to continue. And it is odd for policy to say that drug possession is legal but production and sale are not.

This assessment of decriminalization might seem inconsistent with evidence that drug-related ills are lower in countries that have decriminalized marijuana or other drugs. But this evidence confuses decriminalization with reduced enforcement of drug laws generally. Most effects of prohibition depend on the degree to which it is enforced. If decriminalization means reduced enforcement, then its effects are beneficial because it moves policy from prohibition towards legalization. But policy can obtain these benefits by lowering enforcement against trafficking just as well as by reducing enforcement against possession.


At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting perspective.

How would our inner cities look if the police arrested users but not dealers?

For one dealers wouldn't be able to make big profits anymore. They'd need to find a new livelihhod.

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