Monday, January 11, 2010

Treating Drugs Like Cigarettes

This post at Say Anything got me wondering about how best to curb drug use in the country. I think the stupidity the post points out in asking how New York City could think it's a good idea to facilitate heroin use while propsing to try and tax sugary drinks and salt out of people lives is obvious.

But it got me thinking: what if drugs were legalized and sold exclusively through licensed dealers? The misguided propensity for government to try and legislate behavior might be put to good use for once. If drugs were a legal commodity, open to taxation, the government could simply tax it out of existence the way it is attempting to with cigarettes.

There would be problems of course. As the taxes went up users would likely do whatever was necessary to get the money for a fix. There would inevitably be a database of known drug users which would raise all sorts of ire with the privacy crowd.

Long term, however, would this approach work? I don't think we'll know in my lifetime; the political backlash of this would likely be too much for any Congress to draft the legislation. It would be interesting though to try this approach on marijuana, a drug which is lumped in with the likes of heroin and methamphetamine, narcotics with far greater negative consequences on society.

This line of thinking puts me in an uncomfortable place, as I dislike taxation as behavioral engineering. Think of this as an intellectual exercise (and one I'm well aware did not originate with me).

What do you think? If the government announced tomorrow that marijuana was legal and for sale by licensed dealers, and subsequently taxed it at higher and higher rates to curb its use, would the tactic succeed in ending, or at least greatly diminishing, its use?


  1. I've long thought there has been legitimate arguments for legalzing marijuana...I can't say that I've necessarily agreed with them all, but good arguements just the same.

    In that same vein, the "legalize and tax" concept has some merrits. My initial thought is the idea could work in the short term for raising tax revenue and possibly it's popularity. But as the taxes increased the price I sense there would be an increase in "black market" type dealings and other illicit activities related to the drug.

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  3. I don't know about the black market thing, though. While there is a tobacco black market of sorts, most people either quit smoking or grumble and pay $6.00 for a pack of Marlboros.

    Would the black market for pot, which would, in our hypothetical world, be grown on legal farms in the U.S., be bigger? Maybe.

  4. I'm not really sure about the black market thing either. My thought is that there is an existing illegal supply and distribution channel of pot so a sudden "home grown" supply would either cause prices to drop or create a black market of sorts. On the other hand, with decreased profits for the illegal sources they may switch their production capacity to a different, higher profit crop...perhaps poppies? Again, not sure, but just a thought. Too many possible scenarios to play out.

    One thing is for certain; I have too much time on my hands. lol