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April 2008
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Dust up – Day 4

It’s delightful entertainment over at the LA Times, because we so seldom get to see prohibitionists in any kind of debating forum, and Stimson is a textbook case as to why that is. It’s no contest at all — Jacob Sullum hardly has to try.
Today’s question is about violence.
While Stimson admits that legalization could bring about a reduction in prohibition-related violence, he say that won’t help us at all.

Here’s the rub, though: If you impose high taxes, a gray market will inevitably be created, and along with it will come violence. If you impose no taxes, and thus the price remains low, there will be rampant consumption and the predictable, attendant violence and social dislocation that go hand in hand with consumption.

Did you catch that? Apparently the only options are excessively high taxes or no taxes. You see, I would have thought that maybe the idea was to come up with a method of taxation that would fall short of encouraging a gray market.
But let’s assume that we are politically unable to do anything else. Are we really to believe that grey-market violence is anything like black-market fueled violence? Sure, there are criminals that get involved when one state taxes cigarettes too high, but does anyone actually worry about Los Zetas putting severed heads on stakes in order to protect their tax-free Virginia Slims territory?
And as far as the “violence and social dislocation” that will occur with the increased drug use that comes from untaxed legalized drugs, what exactly is Stimson saying? And how does he support it? What’s going to happen? Are the newly added casual marijuana users going to be mixing it up? Or will it be the harder drug users who no longer have to steal to support their dependence?
There’s no evidence that drug-related (as opposed to prohibition-related) violence would increase with legalization, even if there was significantly increased use. In fact, there are many reasons that even drug-related violence would be reduced (law enforcement focused on violence rather than drugs, greater emphasis on getting help for those who need it, etc.
The dishonesty of Stimson’s argument is staggering. According to him, there is no point in getting rid of prohibition-related violence, because even if we do, we’ll have grey-market violence or drug-related violence. The quantity or nature of the violence seems to be irrelevant to him.
Now here’s the way I see it. Let’s call the level of drug-related violence that exists today a “3.” And let’s say that the grey-market violence that we’d see if taxation was too high might be a “4.” On that scale, I would place prohibition-related violence at around “27.” (In Mexico, “63”)
Let’s say that untaxed legalization caused drug-related violence to double (something I think highly unlikely). Let’s compare our options:

  1. Today: Prohibition violence (27) plus drug violence (3) = total violence (30)
  2. Grey-market: Grey-market violence (4) plus drug violence (3)=total violence (7)
  3. Legalization with no taxes: Drug violence (6)=total violence (6)

So why shouldn’t we legalize?
Of course, these are rather arbitrary numbers, but they’re a lot more accurate than Stimson’s nonsense.

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