Laura Miller writes a compelling review of Ryan Grim’s new book This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America:
But if Grim has learned anything from his forays into the tangled world of drug laws (he once worked for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies for the repeal of pot prohibition), it’s that the American passion for getting high turns enforcement-centered strategies into a vast game of Whack-a-Mole. “Policies enacted to counter other drugs — marijuana and cocaine, for example — have ended up encouraging the meth trade, as have laws against meth itself,” he writes. Crackdowns on pot smuggled from Mexico during the 1970s caused growers, dealers and users to turn to heroin, meth and especially cocaine, the last of which was brought in from Colombia via the Caribbean and Miami. When federal authorities finally got around to draining the swamp of crime and corruption in Miami (where one-fifth of all real estate transactions were paid for in cash), coke smuggling migrated to Mexico, and when attacked there, it scattered throughout the region, “creating the cartel structure that exists today.” This year, the National Drug Threat Assessment has described Mexican cartels as “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States,” whose violence has spilled over the border and whose influence “over domestic drug trafficking is unrivaled.”
Grim has a knack for digging up facts and crunching statistics to get unexpected results. The meth “epidemic” that has recently inspired so much media alarm is already in decline, while crack use, never as pervasive as it was depicted in the 1980s, has remained fairly steady since then. Today’s kids aren’t smoking much pot because pot is a “social” drug, shared among peers who gather in parking lots and other hangouts; teens have less unstructured time now and tend to socialize online. They still get high, only on prescription drugs pilfered from adults or ordered off the Internet. “There’s no social ritual involved,” he observes, “just a glass of water and a pill,” which “fits well into a solitary afternoon.”
One obvious point here is that building policy on perception rather than data results in a lot of wasted effort and misplaced sanctions. Another is that the regulation of innate desires is likely to produce a bizarre set of unintended consequences.
[HT: Tyler Cowen]