Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Marijuana eradication backfires

Thanks to the invaluable Bruce Mirken at the Marijuana Policy Project for this one. (Drug reformers feud among themselves but I try to talk to all of them.)

The U.S. Department of Justice has released an assessment of the marijuana "eradication" campaigns such as California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP, ain't that cute?). Despite a huge -- 1,200 percent -- increase in seizures over the past decade, the report assesses that production operations in Northern California "are extensive, widespread, becoming more sophisticated, and increasing in size," and "marijuana availability is widespread." So the campaign has not accomplished the goal of reducing the supply to users substantially. Full report available here.

But the side-effects of this unsuccessful campaign are even more perverse. Enforcement has been more vigorous, even though it hasn't done the primary job, so it has "caused major marijuana producers, particularly Caucasion groups, to relocate indoors, even in leading outdoor grow states such as California and Tennessee." Especially striking has been the increase in the use of suburban houses, and the trend is likely to continue. The growers and distributors "will adapt to the increasing law enforcement pressure and improved detection capabilities associated with outdoor grow sites and will most likely shift operations indoors . . . [T]he groups will increase higher-potency marijuana year-round, allowing for an exponential increase in profits derived."

So in other words, if the goal was to have more high-potency pot available and those who grow it wealthier, the eradication program has been working just fine.

Actually, this is the inevitable result of almost every step-up in drug-law enforcement. My friend Dick Cowan -- he's doing marijuananews.com again -- coined the term the "iron law of prohibition" to descibe the phenomenon (all these years I thought it had been Arnold Trebach, but I talked to Dick recently). Increase enforcement, and the producers/dealers move to drugs that are more potent and more easily concealable and more profitable -- more potent marijuana or "hard" drugs like heroin and cocaine. As long as some people desire the stuff enough to pay the "drug war premium" for substances, heavy-duty enforcement will have this seemingly perverse effect. Or is it perverse? If the drug war actually worked -- i.e., eradicated drugs to the point that users couldn't acquire them -- the drug warriors might have to find honest work. Like most government programs, the result is to prolong and increase the social evil it targets, because as long as the problem persists the government agency will have to stay in existence and ask for a higher budget. Nothing succeeds like failure.

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