Drug Enforcement

Ever had one of those thoughts that seemed to make sense for a moment before you realized how ludicrous it was? But then after more reflection it almost makes sense again?

I was reading this article about a $350 million cocaine bust, which mentions the Bush administration requested $600 million for Colombia’s anti-cocaine effort. Clearly, or so it seemed momentarily, they won’t need the full $600 million since they just got more than half of it from this one drug bust! But soon reality set in, and I realized that despite the cocaine having such a high American street value, the Colombian authorities will not be collecting on that. The article goes on to explain how the amount of cocaine on U.S. streets has not declined despite more than $3 billion in assistance to Colombia over the past 5 years.

Would it be so crazy for the Drug Enforcement Agency take the drugs collected in busts and sell them on the streets in America? One could raise the point that drug abuse has negatively affected so many lives. However, people clearly have had access to illegal drugs without any help from the DEA. If the DEA sold drugs, it would have additional funds for the fight against drugs. If it undersold the competition, Colombian drug lords would lose their profit motive. The DEA might run them out of business!

Now someone may be thinking that a lowered price would result in more drug users — simple supply/demand economics. To those people I ask this: is the price of illegal drugs the reason you aren’t an addict? Do you know how much these drugs cost? I expect some will answer yes to both questions, but I doubt that is the majority. It is generally accepted that, among hard-core addicts, illegal drugs are price-inelastic; the demand is relatively constant regardless of the price. There is more contention about the price-elasticity among experimental users.

So, in short, if the DEA sold drugs, there would be more funding for drug enforcement, less incentive for suppliers, and a mixed result on users. I know that is not a perfect outcome, but it is arguably better than the outcomes from their current strategy.

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