Moral crusade, business problem, or something else entirely?

There’s an interesting, though completely fatally flawed OpEd in the Detroit News by former federal prosecutor Mark Osler:

Drug policy: Moral crusade or business problem?

At the root of this failure is a simple error: We have treated narcotics as an issue of morality rather than business. Our efforts have been focused on punishing relatively minor actors through mass incarceration rather than on the very different goal of shutting down drug businesses. A starting point as we reconsider our efforts should be the simple recognition that narcotics trafficking is first and foremost a business.

That means that we need to put business experts in charge of the effort to close down narcotics businesses. This change might make all the difference.

A business expert, for example, would know enough to identify a proper measure of success or failure. The only real way to know if narcotics interdiction is working isn’t how much cocaine is piled up in a bust, or how many people we lock up. Rather, the best measure is an economic one: the price of narcotics on the street. If we are successful at restricting supply, the price should go up (given a rough consistency of demand). Hiking the price is important. We have learned from cigarettes that raising the price of something addictive reduces usage rates. Still, governments continue to measure success by narcotics seized, arrests made, and sentences imposed rather than the street value of illegal drugs.

Mark Osler is right in his criticisms of the moral crusade approach, and also about some of the stupid things we’ve been doing in the drug war (measuring success in piles of cocaine, sweeping up low-level dealers, etc.).

However, the notion of winning the drug war by putting business leaders in charge, while novel, is simply out of touch with reality.

Yes, we would be better off if those involved in setting policy understood economic principles better (supply and demand, etc.) — they’d then realize that the drug war can’t work.

But putting business leaders to work utilizing their business skills to combat drug trafficking is a non-starter, for the simple reason that the black market exists outside the realm (and the civilized rules) of the business economy.

Where business leaders would employ lawyers, traffickers employ gunmen. And so on.

The only way to make this idea work is to take drug trafficking out of the black market through legalized regulation. Then business models would apply and could have a great impact on how drugs were marketed and sold (of course, that’s exactly the kind of thing that terrifies people like Mark Kleiman and Kevin Sabet).

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24 Responses to Moral crusade, business problem, or something else entirely?

  1. Dante says:

    Any “business expert” would immediately see that prohibition was the problem.

    Odd how Mr. Osler missed that elephant in the room. What did he do for a living, again?

  2. Howard says:

    “That means that we need to put business experts in charge of the effort to close down narcotics businesses. This change might make all the difference.”

    No Mark, that is utter bullshit. How can you be so wrong about this topic? Maybe it’s because you’re a former prosecutor and have no idea how the forces of ‘business’ operate? Methinks that might be it. Nice try, but please don’t try again. You’re embarrassing yourself.

  3. darkcycle says:

    Almost sounds like a push for privatization. If he actually understood the dynamics of supply and demand and the principal of scarcity he would also understand what he’s saying is horseshit.

  4. Servetus says:

    I can see it now. Donald Trump for drug czar. Arresting choom gangs would seamlessly complement his birther rants.

  5. Jean Valjean says:

    Osler has moved from the Federal teat to the academic teat, but I don’t see any experience of running a business on his cv. This may explain his complete lack of understanding of the economics of the drug war and the supply and demand of illegal drugs. The man is utterly clueless and should shut up before he embarrasses himself further.

  6. ben says:

    Cartels and drug warriors both want high prices. Nothing new here.

    Also, demand for cocaine/heroin/meth is demonstrably inelastic. That is, demand/usage does NOT in fact decrease significantly when price increases significantly.

    • Jean Valjean says:

      The only thing that’s elastic is the volume of property crime needed to support any black market price increase. Good move Osler (and Kleiman and Sabet et al)

      • B. Snow says:

        Yep, and this is the very thing Mark Kleiman was openly wishing for on CNN, on Friday – in “The Lead with Jake Tapper” segment.

        Howard – posted a link to the youtube clip = in the NAACP thread on Saturday it’s via the LeafScience site.
        (I hadn’t seen that site before the other day either, Thanks Howard!)
        No, but the point is when Jake asks Kleiman about the Tax Ballot-Initiative passed in Colorado, and he gripes about it being passed via democratic initiative rather than via legislation handed down from Capitol Hill.

        Specifically he suggests that the price is going to go down, as it’s legalized & He basically said if he had it his way – He’d want the power to have an adjustable tax rate that the government could adjust upward whenever the free-market reduces the cost to grow & sell it…

        IDK, what to think about him = the SOB is saying, He wants to have a means to artificially keep it as expensive as it is now! To prevent increased use or whatever.
        I suspect he would try to take a cut of the Tax – at some % that would keep him independently wealthy for as long as he could finagle it… ‘by hook or by crook’ – so to speak.

        But he does seem to accept the reality that there’s no way for them to keep it “Decriminalized” – so he (among others) can get paid to write “Policy” dealing with a not-quite-legal status.

        IMNSHO. You can really see it on his face in the video-clip that he’s seen the writing on wall. If ya squint just right – You can almost see the ‘Disingenuous-Argument-Balloon’ as it deflates before your eyes.

        I almost felt mean there for a second -anywho- He’s probably just hoping to be able to continue being seen as an ‘authority’ on the matter, and (probably more importantly) to continue supplementing his teaching income/living by writing books on the subject.

        He might settle for ‘Consultant Fees’… As that’s probably WAY easier to B.S. his way thru (over writing a book) = IF, He can find another set of suckers = like the good people of the State of Washington, that will pay him to do it.

        “He says that the model for regulating marijuana still needs work, and believes a for-profit industry poses risks of its own.”

        Translation: He’ll happily tell us all how to avoid those risks for a Percentage of the adjustable Sin Tax he wants levied on it!

        • Duncan20903 says:


          The consistent flaw in the arguments proffered by the prohibitionist parasites and the faux legalizer (only 1 of them so far) is the presumption that prohibition works. Look at all the people who aren’t out driving while cannabis addled, look at how many people don’t choose to enjoy cannabis because of the high price, look at all the school children that didn’t grow up to live on Skid Row, look at all the employees who didn’t end up on “welfare”, just look at all those invisible people, etc, etc, etc ad nauseum. I still don’t understand how I’m supposed to see their invisible evidence and strongly suspect that they’re suffering from self serving delusions.

          The prohibitionist also don’t care about consistency. I just got reamed out by a sycophant. I asked him why the prohibitionists never worry about they’re predictions being proved wrong wrong wrong because he claimed re-legalization would cause mayhem and carnage in the work place. I pointed out that the same predictions were made in Oregon in 1998 if the voters chose to re-decriminalize cannabis and approved the OMMP. The voters didn’t fall for it and in the subsequent 10 years the Oregon workplace only improved every year. By 2009 the Oregon workplace was safer than at any time since they started keeping records. “Well that’s a totally different subject.” Man my head still hurts from beating it against a brick wall because of the frustration. Prohibitionists are blithering idiots, no doubt.

  7. Duncan20903 says:


    So here’s the first article I recall finding that quantifies the so called “black market” in cigarettes:

    Black market for cigarettes costs Massachusetts millions

    Well, hundreds of millions, but who’s counting?

    Massachusetts has the second highest cigarette tax among the 50 States and D.C.

    The Bay State Legislature has established the Illegal Tobacco Commission. “So far, the commission has worked mostly on quantifying the problem. According to Ozyurt, the Department of Revenue estimates that in fiscal year 2012, Massachusetts residents avoided paying the state excise or sales tax on 13 to 20 percent of cigarettes consumed in Massachusetts.”

    So there you have it. I’m pretty confident that we can safely presume that an “Illegal Tobacco Commission” is very likely to exaggerate the State’s “lost” taxes. To get to 20% in “lost” tax money the State had to collect $1.18 billion (with a B) and is likely a much higher number presuming that 20% is overstated.

    The only point to this post is as ammunition against prohibitionist regurgitated hysterical rhetoric and the absurd claim that there would be no taxes collected if cannabis is re-legalized and subject to a State imposed excise and/or sales & use tax.

    But gosh, who the heck thinks tax collectors don’t know how to mitigate tax evasion? Several years ago I played around with the idea of owning a laundromat. Every single one I looked at found the current owner giving me a nudge nudge wink wink think about all the tax free profits you can pocket. I also found out that if the IRS audits a laundromat that the first thing the auditor asks for is the water bill and the manufacturer’s specs on their washing machines. Those things use a consistent amount of water per load. So those assholes with the nudge nudge wink wink were not only trying to rip me off by appealing to my greed, they were trying to get me busted for tax evasion.

    It’s laughably absurd to believe that the tax collectors won’t figure out where the taxes due are leaking and to figure out how to plug the hole. Do you think you’re smarter than those tax collectors? Do you really think they haven’t seen it all? It’s what those guys do full time. It’s just plain stupid to presume them so incompetent that any inexperienced Tom, Dick of Harry can fool them and get away with it.

  8. tony Aroma says:

    I always thought the bigger the bust, the bigger the failure of law enforcement. If they were succeeding, the busts would get smaller and smaller over time, not bigger. Whenever they display some huge amount of confiscated drugs and brag about their record seizure, in reality, they’re bragging about setting a new record of failure.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      The glorification and the obsessive embrace of epic, proven failures of public policy is truly astounding. But the prohibitionist parasites and their sycophants using the results of this failed public policy as justification to perpetuate the nonsense is so far beyond laughably absurd that I haven’t even got the words to describe it. Youth use rates of drinking alcohol and tobacco smoking at 30 year lows? Youth use rates of cannabis at 30 year highs? That proves that prohibition benefits the children?

      Our National Forests being trashed by illegal growers because the government would steal their property if they chose to grow on private land is evidence that prohibition is needed for the benefit of the environment?

      Chemicals, mold, and other exogenous dangers of using cannabis is proof that it should be illegal? WTF?

      Stuff like that is so preposterous that it makes me wonder if I’m actually in a coma and this entire reality is just a figment of my broken brain. The sudden, 180Ëš turn toward re-legalization doesn’t help that either, because it’s precisely how I’d write the story. So…is it live? Or is it memorex? Could somebody pinch me please?

      Well I must say that it’s still not quite accurate but the word “preposterous” certainly appears to be getting close to being an accurate descriptor of the prohibitionists’ reality.

      [pri-pos-ter-uhs, -truhs]

      completely contrary to nature, reason, or common sense; absurd; senseless; utterly foolish: a preposterous tale.

  9. allan says:

    what a twit… and what a vacuous, 700 word waste of time.

    I suspect this is the prohibs’ new angle, the appearance of reasonableness. Instead of trying to raise our hackles w/ bombastic hysterics they are going to try and bore us to sleep with substanceless but well dressed nonsense.

    • kaptinemo says:

      Which is why I have coined a new word to describe the process: Sabetage. Fits ol’ Kevvie to a ‘tee’.

  10. thelbert says:

    sure our business leaders could put the cartels out of business, but only if they were somehow appointed jefe. i doubt if they could make the dope business unprofitable if they had to start at the bottom. i think what he’s trying to say is we can bring down the cartels if we set an army of thieves against them.

  11. Goblet says:

    OT: Silk Road back up

    “When no child goes to bed hungry and no old person struggles to pay the costs of living, then I would be happy to say that tackling drug use is an acceptable way to spend money—if it were still illegal at that point. But putting people in jail for smoking a plant while leaving schoolchildren hungry at night is an utter disgrace.”

    Also, did someone post a clip of the recent CNN Sabet showing?

  12. Servetus says:

    Moral crusade, business problem, or something else entirely?

    It’s a crusade, but it’s not moral.

    It’s anti-business. Drug prohibition is a restriction of trade. The trade restrictions make it a matter of who benefits: Big Pharma, the local street merchant, or a witch in Cuzco, Peru, who may sell the herbal cure for some type of cancer. A level playing field in the drug business is virtually verboten. Under the present government policies, medicine may only enrich certain elites who impose arbitrary rituals regarding how medicine may be acquired and ingested.

    I vote prohibition is something else entirely.

    • allan says:

      troublemaker… c’mon, take your pills and queue up.

      Oh… and thanks for the nod to Tia down there in Cuzco.

  13. CJ says:

    hello from bond street in the lower east side where junkies and alckie’s (sp?) gather at night, homeless and doubtless victims of this drug war, this prohibition. im sure of it. this is hilarious. you know, every night out on the street, well, for those of you who dont know me, ive been around this blog for awhile, i am a passionate heroin lover, often homeless, named CJ. How do you do? I used to post alot but now im rarely around a CPU and never have time anyway (my days consist of panhandling, stealing, fencing, scoring, shooting, snoring, sleep repeat.) this is no doubt hilarious. business people are gonna stop the drug dealers? well the drug users will never allow it, not if there’s no legal alternative in conjunction with the efforts. Why? BECAUSE, DUH, WE DONT WANT TO STOP. YES, WE ENJOY OUR HEROIN VERY VERY MUCH. WE HAVE GIVEN UP FAMILY, FRIENDS, HOME, FOOD, GIRLFRIENDS, BOYFRIENDS, WIVES, HUSBANDS, CHILDREN, ETC. ETC. ETC. BECAUSE, DUH, WE LOVE TO DO OUR DRUGS!

    Besides that.

    Every night i lay my head at Bond street i have the wonderful priviledge of hearing the business class as they walk by on their drunken crusades. just the other night one witty white collar white guy said of our area, it was “sleep over row.” LOL. I bet you if he was alone in that alley at 2am he would be pissing his pants in fear. I know it.

    Business men are gonna come into the hood, the projects where we score every day with a hard hat and shut it down? LOL.


    this just reeks of the problem at large

    TOTAL disconnect between the REAL situation in the drug war/drug world and the people who have no experience whatsoever with drugs or the drug world or whose experience is the past as they now head some big drug rehab business and the bottom line is NONE of them have any clue what to do. AT ALL.

    The answer is simple, ethan nadelmann for all his pot bias gets it. pete i know gets it. LEGALIZE EVERYTHING.

    i know that’s the answer. i know it because im in this world all day every day, yes by choice. If they would like the junkies back in their families, working, contributing to society, etc. etc. i assure you it’s the only solution. AA doesnt work. 5% success rate. The two rehabs that HATE AA with a passion have only a 68% success rate. Methadone varies but for the most part doesnt work, i believe its like 42%-50 or 60 something.

    Heroin maintenance? 88-92%.

    thats our brains on drugs. questions?

    • Matthew Meyer says:

      Good to know you’re still out there, ripping and running, but especially thinking and feeling and breathing.

    • darkcycle says:

      Good to see you, CJ. Wonderin’ how you’ve been doing with Winter coming on…stay safe, and stay warm, buddy.

  14. War Vet says:

    I couldn’t understand the logic in this article . . . I even tried reading it underwater and then later replacing all the text with the old ‘Steppenwolf’ novel from Hesse. Business men controlling/calling the prohibition scene would only allow for more corruption and exploitation of our liberties. I think Mark would have made a better argument if he would have simply discussed the issue of ‘the Right Twix cookie’ over ‘the Left Twix cookie’. This is what happens when you bash the prohibition beast’s head over and over again: it gets stupid. Prohibitionists are now going blind from drinking their home brewed rip-gut liquor: Poison in equals detachment out. If this man ever gets his anal cavity checked and then probed by fingers in New Mexico, someone will poke a hole in his brain.

    It would make logical sense that these prohib types will set themselves on fire as a form of protest (wishful thinking I know).

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