Sunday, June 5, 2011

Should getting tough on crime include jailing drug users?

So the Harper Conservatives want to get tough on crime, including the building of new super jails.  The question of course begs, with crime rates falling who's going to fill all those cells.

Attitudes on drug use tend to run the gamut, with some in favour of legalizing certain substances while others take a more hard line approach.   Regardless of where or how enforcement is carried out, the harshest treatment is typically reserved for those on the supply side of the equation, the dealers.

I think most probably find this a reasonable approach.  After all, users are often seen as victims, the real criminals are the individuals profiting from the addictions of those buying the drugs. 

But is this the best approach?  Is jailing dealers really going to help diminish the amount of drug use?

Wouldn't putting users behind bars make more sense?

Huh???  What???  I can just hear progressiveness questioning this basic logic, but bear with me and follow it through.

Let's look at it from a strictly economic perspective, taking the laws of supply and demand into account. 

Putting dealers into jail and confiscating their drugs squeezes supply, that means higher prices.  Will other criminals be willing to step into the breach?  Of course, meeting demand means even higher profits.  We're talking about criminal activity here after all, and the motivation up and down the supply line is profit.  When competition is removed and supply squeezed, profits go up.  If anything putting the clamps on dealers merely makes things worse. 

Think about it, if there wasn't money to be made dealing drugs...why risk going to jail? 

But what would happen if it was users who bore the brunt of the legal system.  I wouldn't suggest a first time pot smoker being put in jail...but someone caught three or more times maybe.

Now the demand side would be taking a hit.  Less demand means lower prices, which in turns means less incentive for criminals to engage in the dealing of drugs. 

Its an academic argument based on simple economics.  If the government ever wants to get serious about reducing drug use and the criminal activity that surrounds it, there are only 2 options.  Either legalize, regulate and tax it, or go after the users. 

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