- Peter Burrows - firstname.lastname@example.org- Blog: silvercityburro.com.
Mexican drug cartels had estimated 2016 revenues from the sale of illegal drugs in the U.S. of as much as $50 billion. They’ve used that money to corrupt local and state police forces, political parties, businesses and ordinary citizens. What this means is that there are many Mexicans who are not directly involved in the illegal drug trade who profit from it.
The same can be said of the United States. Drug dealers spend money on cops, politicians, real estate and legitimate businesses. How big the penumbra of legitimate economic activity that emanates from the illegal drug business is a big unknown.
Add to that the livelihoods of all those employed in the war on drugs, from cops to judges, and there is a perfectly understandable constituency to maintain the status quo. Legalizing drugs would upset a lot of apple carts, and not just those of the drug dealers and everybody who works for them.
That said, most people oppose legalizing drugs in principle, regardless of whether it would affect their livelihood. Nonetheless, one of the benefits of legalization would be a big reduction in the government bureaucracies dedicated to the war on drugs. These bureaucracies will oppose legalization efforts.
For legalization of drugs such as heroin and cocaine to occur, the public has to support it, which they don’t now. Whether this will change or not is a big question. The legalization of marijuana that is now underway, state by state, has been instructive. Pew Research reports that in 2000 only 31% of those surveyed approved legalizing pot vs. 61% in 2018.
A 2016 survey (Vox) showed a similar result with 59% approval. That same survey showed only about 15% approval for legalizing heroin, cocaine, or meth. That may change if synthetic drugs become the problem I think they will. More on that later.
As of today, eight states plus D.C. have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana, and another 22 have legalized medical marijuana. Those states with total legalization have seen price reductions of as much as eighty percent versus the pre-legalized price. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a fifty percent reduction in the amount of marijuana seized at the border. If the trend continues, the cartels will soon be out of the marijuana business.
Pot smokers in legalized states get not only lower prices, they also get higher quality, more choice and no hassle from the cops. I wouldn’t be surprised to someday see competing brands of marijuana cigarettes. “Competing” is the key word. Competition drives down prices and drives up quality.
The same effects would apply if heroin and cocaine were legalized. Prices would drop, quality would increase, deaths from accidental overdoses would drop, incarcerations would drop, as would violence and corruption. The farmers around the world who grow poppies and cocoa would stay in business, but their customers would change, e.g. drug companies instead of cartels.
Like other commodities, drug demand is influenced by price, fads, marketing, consumer preference and substitution. The latter is important, as opioid overdose deaths are lower in states with legalized marijuana. The cravings experienced by opioid addicts whose prescriptions have expired are alleviated by marijuana, a rational choice if marijuana is legal and non-prescription opioids aren't.
Opioid addiction, which stems from the over prescription of Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc., is the latest example of a government created drug problem. I recently filled a prescription for 30 generic Vicodin pills at a dollar a pill. Should I need refills, (I won't) I would risk becoming dependent on the drug and suffer withdrawal symptoms. I would be unable to get my prescription renewed to treat that problem.
The black market would charge me $5 a pill, if I could find them, and even then, I wouldn't know if I was getting the real drug. Why not allow me to register as an opioid addict and thereby get the drug for, e.g. $2 a pill along with counseling or something? As an aside, I don't think it works as well as advertised, but it works well enough for me to prefer addiction to the pain I experienced. If I can't get more Vicodin, please, Great God government, give me permission to smoke a legal joint.
Similarly, methamphetamine might not be as bad a problem if alternative drugs, especially cocaine, were legal and cheap. Drug consumers make rational choices when they can.
Meth is a good example of the Whack-A-Mole nature of the illegal drug market. The Mexican cartels have compensated for the loss of their marijuana business by pushing sales of other drugs, especially meth. The DEA says about 90 percent of the meth trade is controlled by the cartels, and the use of and deaths from meth are growing rapidly. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention puts 2015 deaths from stimulants, mostly meth, at almost 6,000, a 255% increase from ten years ago.
This is the second time meth has become a national problem. Back in the 1980’s, biker gangs began making meth from ephedrine, found in many cold medicines. By 2005, meth seemed to be everywhere, along with the very dangerous labs that produced it. In 2004, near the peak of the meth problem, police in Portland, Oregon, destroyed 114 meth labs. One city!
When the government shut down the supply of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the meth labs disappeared here and production shifted to Mexico. There the cartels set up labs, imported the chemicals they needed and got really, really efficient at making the stuff. The meth sold today is nearly 100% pure and sells for as low as $5 a hit.
“We’re seeing a lot of long-time addicts who used crack cocaine switch to meth,” said Brendan Combs, a Portland police officer. “You ask them about it, and they’ll say: ‘Hey, it’s half the price and it’s good quality.’" (The New York Times, 2/13/18: “Meth, the Forgotten Killer Is Back, And It’s Everywhere.”)
Cocaine and meth are both stimulants, unlike the opioids such as heroin, and the meth producers compete against both cocaine and other meth producers and they do so on the basis of price and quality. It is conceivable that legalizing cocaine may be the most effective way to reduce the danger of meth. If we added the death penalty – and used it! -- for meth dealers, that might eliminate the meth problem altogether.
War on drugs, my ass. We're having a pillow fight on drugs.
The meth resurgence illustrates another trend that has huge implications in the war on drugs: illegal synthetic drugs could well become the number one drug problem in America. Opioids and cocaine are derived from plants that are grown. Meth and other synthetics are produced from chemicals readily available throughout the world, no farmers needed, just chemists.
Fentanyl is the best known synthetic. It is a heroin synthetic that is 50 times more potent than Nature's version. It is used most frequently as a skin patch for cancer patients and in post-op recovery. (I recently had a dose. It was very effective, but I hope I never need one again.) It costs pennies and small amounts can be sent through the mail in regular envelopes. Small amounts yield a large number of doses. It's coming in from labs in both China and India, and there is no way to stop it.
The good news is that Fentanyl and its myriad analogues could put the cartels out of the heroin business. Even if the cartels set up their own labs to produce Fentanyl et al, there's eventually not going to be much profit in something so cheap and so readily available from a number of suppliers.
The bad news is that the synthetic is so powerful that accidental overdoses are becoming a big problem. Overdoses stemming from over-prescription of analgesic opioids such as Oxycodone are getting all the publicity, but the real problem is illegal Fentanyl. According to the CDC (www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm), overdose deaths in America are running at a 70,000 per year rate, up from 50,000 in 2015. Most of that increase is from Fentanyl deaths, up from 3,000 in 2015 to over 20,000 today.
The problem is that only 2 milligrams constitutes a deadly dose. Since the drug is being mixed in with street heroin and used in fake prescription pills with little dose control, we can expect the death toll to continue to rise.
What to do? The safest course of action would be to legalize Fentanyl as an over the counter drug which then puts the dosage in the hands of the drug companies, e.g. Merck or Pfizer. That way, somebody who purchases the drug will know what the dosage is. There is nothing we can do if that purchaser then overdoses.
In addition to synthetic heroin, synthetic cocaine and cannabis are also available and becoming more like the real stuff as chemists around the world compete to make "better" products. All of this must add to the business woes of the Mexican cartels. Are they headed to the dust bin of history? Beats me, but I hope so.
Last year saw a record 28,710 homicides in Mexico, an estimated one third related to illegal drugs, and this year is on track to be over 30,000. The violence is spreading into Central America. Throughout the region, decent people are trying to escape the violence by going to America. Sadly, when they cross into Mexico, they are at the mercy of the cartels. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently estimated that human smuggling brings the Mexican cartels over $500 million a year.
Some of this "business" will dry up as the illegal drug business disappears, but not all. People want to get to America for reasons other than to escape drug violence. This means we'll still need a wall, virtual or otherwise.
If it were up to me, anybody caught facilitating illegal immigration/invasion would be executed. Any illegal in America would forever be denied citizenship and public benefits of any kind. Any cost of incarcerating illegal immigrant criminals would be sent to the Mexican government.
At the same time, "racist" me would pay Mexican doctors, nurses, electricians, plumbers etc., to immigrate to America. A million dollars tax free for a Mexican heart specialist? Sounds about right. I wonder how long it would be before Mexico began cooperating in controlling our mutual border?