News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Business

May 2, 2007

Arthur Foulkes: Economics explains why war on drugs is hopeless

TERRE HAUTE — It’s gotten to the point that when I hear of a tragedy, scandal or disaster, I find myself, after the initial shock, anger, or sadness wears off, worrying what those in government will do in response to the problem.

Lawmakers and other government officials want to be seen to be doing “something” in the wake of a disaster, scandal or widely perceived problem. Unfortunately, the laws they pass often create new problems that will eventually result in new laws, and on, and on.

One example of this may be in the current legislative steps being taken to combat the “methamphetamine epidemic” – the latest front in the government’s decades-old war on drugs. It’s possible that the steps being taken to combat meth are creating new problems and it’s also quite possible that the meth problem itself has its roots in the government’s policy of drug prohibition.

Without a doubt, methamphetamine is a very dangerous and harmful drug. Its effects are disastrous for users and those exposed to “meth labs,” including, very often, children. But, in the same way alcohol prohibition resulted in people resorting to homemade and often dangerous “wood” alcohol, drug prohibition may arguably have led to growth and widespread use of homemade and dangerous meth.

“The similarities between so-called ‘bathtub gin’ and modern meth are inescapable,” writes Reason Magazine’s Radley Balko. Most “home brewed” alcohol dried up after Prohibition was repealed, Balko notes, adding that the same would likely happen to cruder illicit drugs, such as crack cocaine and meth, if conventional amphetamines were less strictly controlled.

One fairly recent step lawmakers eager to “do something” have taken in light of the meth “epidemic” is to make the purchase of cold medicine and other ingredients used in making meth more difficult to purchase. Buyers of certain cold medicines now have to show an ID, sign a log and give their personal information to a clerk. The information eventually makes its way to local authorities.

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