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December 2005
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Wishful Drug-Warrior Thinking

Walters and the other prohibitionists have been bragging recently about a recent spike in the street price of cocaine.
CATO’s Ted Galen Carpenter, writing at NRO, stuffs that spike down their throat:

f you had received a dollar every time a U.S. government official announced that victory was near at hand in the war on drugs, you would be a rich person. […]

Carpenter uses Walter’s numbers against him to demonstrate that the claims are baseless.

For the past twelve years, street prices of cocaine have fluctuated between $120 and $190 per gram. Clearly, a price of $170 is well within that “normal” range. Indeed, the price of cocaine has fluctuated 19 percent or more — both up and down — many times during the twelve-year period. The latest fluctuation is nothing to get excited about.

If one examines the price trend over a longer period, the “achievement” is even less impressive. During the early 1980s, cocaine sold for more than $500 per gram. The long-term trend has clearly been toward lower prices, suggesting that the supply of cocaine has become more plentiful.

In conclusion, Carpenter takes on the entire philosophy of the drug warrior:

The reality is that a supply-side strategy of drug prohibition cannot produce a worthwhile result. If it fails and drug supplies remain plentiful, it is a waste of time and money. If it “succeeds” and creates a supply shortage and a resulting price spike, it drives addicts into lives of greater and greater criminal behavior. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a better definition of an inherently bankrupt policy.

That last is a very interesting point, which is often overlooked. The one caveat I’d add, is that while I agree with Carpenter’s conclusion — including, to a degree, the likely results if the supply side strategy of drug prohibition “succeeds” — I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that it is possilble for such a strategy to succeed.

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