A Basic Principle about Drug Laws

Jacob G. Hornberger – November 23, 2017

Drug laws bring into existence drug gangs. It’s just a basic principle of economics. If you like drug gangs and the violence that comes with them, then you should support drug laws. If you oppose drug gangs and their violence, you should oppose drug laws.

When government enacts a drug law, the assumption is that everyone will comply with it. Drug addicts or casual drug users will presumably say, “Golly, they just made drugs illegal. I guess I had better stop now because otherwise I will be sent to jail.”

That’s not the way life works. Drug addicts need their drugs. They are willing to risk the state’s punishment. The same goes for many casual drug users. They figure that the odds of getting caught are minuscule and are willing to take the chance.

Enter what we call the black market. It consists of people who decide to sell drugs illegally to people who are willing to take the risk of buying and possessing them. Why do drug sellers violate the law? For money. By making the drug illegal, the government causes the supply of the drug to be constricted. Reduced supply means a higher price and higher profits, which attracts sellers.

Who are the people who sell the drugs on the black market? No, not pharmacies and reputable businesses. They don’t do it because they don’t want to risk a felony prosecution and incarceration and the destruction of their businesses.

Instead, the drug sellers in the black market are the drug gangs, drug lords, and drug cartels, all of whom are fighting to expand their share of the market.

To expand their market share, drug sellers in the black market, however, do not employ the methods that businesses in legal markets use, such as advertising and marketing. Instead, black-market sellers employ violence to expand their share of the market. They just kill their competitors. That’s because the black market, unlike the free market, inevitably attracts unsavory people.

When the state cracks down on the drug lords and the drug violence, the situation only gets worse. If they bust one big drug gang, the price of drugs soars, which attracts people to take the place of those who have been busted. The fiercer the crackdown, the higher the price and the profits. The higher the price and the profits, the greater the incentive for new drug sellers.

What’s weird is how government officials are unable to recognize this phenomenon. For example, in the October 25 issue of the New York Times, Christa Castro, the minister for strategy and communication in the office of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, wrote in part:

In just the last four years, President Juan Orlando Hernández’s administration captured and extradited 14 drug lords, destroyed 150 landing strips previously used for drug trafficking, dismantled a dozen drug laboratories and cut the homicide rate by close to 50 percent…. If he is re-elected next month, criminals and drug traffickers in Honduras should prepare for a final defeat.

One has to ask: Was Castro born yesterday? How can she not know that drug war officials have been busting drug lords for decades? Has she never heard of the Medellin Cartel or the Cali Cartel? Pablo Escobar? Has she not heard about how U.S. prisons are filled with drug sellers who have been busted? What do they say about people who do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?

No, Ms. Castro, you and your president, if reelected, are not going to get rid of drug lords, drug cartels, and drug gangs by enforcing your drug laws even more fiercely. Just ask the Mexican government, which has done the same thing, with a death toll of over 100,000 dead people. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, that’s a lot of people that the drug war has killed in one country alone.

There is one — and only one — way to get rid of drug gangs, drug lords, and drug cartels and the violence that comes with them: Acknowledge that drug prohibition was a mistake (just like alcohol prohibition was), repeal all drug laws, and restore the free market to drugs.

This article was originally published at fff.org. Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.  


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