Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Violence and street drug markets

Mark Kleiman notes that in New York City cocaine dealing has been driven indoors by the felony status of dealing the stuff. Meanwhile, dealing in pot and untaxed cigarettes is a midemeanor and the dealers aren't afraid of the cops. The result, Mr. Kleiman reports, is that violence around cocaine dealing is substantially decreased while violence around pot and untaxed cigarette sales is substantial.

Kleiman says that a nasty, illicit market is facilitated by a high tax, then says the right policy response to the problem is not obvious.

Excuse me?

The right policy response is completely obvious: legalize the stuff and subject it to reasonable taxation, not sin taxation the way cigarettes are being taxed more and more.

How much more obvious can it be? Drug prohibition and the War on Some Drugs produce only ill effects.


Anonymous said...

I tend to agree generally with you on your stance on The War on Drugs, but in this particular case, I dont think that your conclusion is supported by the evidence we see. obviously there has been less violence surrounding a MORE strictly illegal practice, which runs counter to what many proponents of the War on Drugs claim decriminalizing/legalizing would do. I suppose the only argument here is to go "balls deep" and not take baby steps through decriminalization or misdemeanor charges, and move right to fully legal. I also find your comment that cigarettes are overtaxed rather weak. While expensive here in Canada, I dont disagree that cigarettes should be taxed at the level they are taxed now. Perhaps they are even more heavily taxed in NYC. here they are like 9$CDN a pack (25), which is probably about 7.50 USD.

That being said, I suppose I would like to see violence statistics from somewhere like the Netherlands, where it is straight up legal. I am too lazy to do the research, but figured maybe I could goad you into doing it!

Steve said...

Thank you for the comment.

I don't smoke, so sin taxes on cigarettes don't affect me except to the degree that they facilitate criminal and terrorist enterprises, which they apparently do.

If memory serves, Canada (or one of her provinces) actually rolled back sin-level cigarette taxation in the face of this phenomenon some time back.

As for a reduction in violence from driving hard drug trade indoors, well, I guess it takes more guts to engage in a gun battle in a hallway than to pop off a few rounds from a moving car. In any event, I'm suspicious of the claim. The key, to me, is that drug trade violence would be eliminated by legalization. Then maybe some of those tens of billions of annual dollars could be turned to addressing violence from other source.