By Robert Hahn and Peter Passell
As goes Colorado and Washington, so goes Uruguay? Yes, Uruguay has decided to legalize (and regulate) the use of marijuana. But it’s a bit Ameri-centric to link the change to similar initiatives in two U.S. states. Back in 2009, Argentina’s highest court ruled penalties for possession of pot were unconstitutional. And that same year, Mexico decriminalized possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, both hard and soft.
All over Latin America, it’s fair to say, opposition to drug use is easing. In part, the movement toward decriminalization/legalization has been driven by frustration with the indifference of the big consuming countries (read: United States) to the violence the illicit drug trade has engendered as the cartels search for new routes from Latin American labs to users from Miami to Seattle. But it’s also a product of the growing recognition that the characteristics of the markets for illicit drugs make the trade almost impossible to suppress.
Actually, it’s even worse: Once enough politicians, cops, prosecutors, prison guards, private prison companies understand that their livelihoods (legal and illegal) depend on the never-ending war, rational efforts to minimize the harm from drugs hardly stand a chance.
Benefits outweigh costs
Here’s the problem – or, at least, one of the problems. The cost of producing virtually every illicit drug from cocaine to heroin to marijuana is trivial compared to their value in the hands of western consumers. Thus smugglers can lose the lion’s share en route and still make astounding profits. And since the demand for most drugs appears to be inelastic, successful efforts to reduce supply lead to higher street prices – and more collateral damage in the form of violence among rival distributors and crime to support addicts’ habits.
Nobody in his right mind thinks legalization is a panacea. But, at least in the case of marijuana, the benefits of legalization (less collateral crime, less waste of police resources and less suffering on the part of users caught in the justice system) seem to trump the costs in terms of abuse.
Uruguay has apparently thought this through pretty carefully. The business of growing and selling pot will remain private. But the wholesale product will be inspected for purity; only pharmacies will be allowed to retail it – and only to registered of-age customers at a price of no more than $2.50 a gram in quantities no greater than 40 grams a month.
Read the rest of the story via Uruguay’s Marijuana Rx | The Exchange – Yahoo! Finance.