Last week, Professor Jeffrey Miron joined us on Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” conversation as part of the Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series.
The conversation focused on Dr. Miron’s 30+ years of study on the effects of drug criminalization. Check out some of the highlights below.
While there seems to be an emerging consensus on legalization of marijuana in the US, pot specific policies might not be completely applicable to other, harder drugs, especially in light of the ongoing opioid crisis. Do you have thoughts on opinions on the efficacy of blanket legalization and/or decriminalization vs. piecemeal changes?
My first choice is full legalization of all drugs: the negatives from prohibition relate mainly to the adverse incentives and effects caused by prohibition, not the specific effects of one drug versus another.
That said, partial measures are generally better than nothing.
Are there currently any countries in the world that have a decent drug policy in your mind? Can be in both directions I suppose, either a more successful ‘war on drugs’ or a sensible policy of tolerance.
Essentially all countries prohibit most / all drugs; but many enforce to a far lesser degree than the U.S. (e.g., Netherlands, Portugal, and to varying degrees, much of Europe and elsewhere). Changing the formal laws is important; but the harms from prohibition do decline as enforcement declines.
Hi Dr. Miron, thanks for the AMA.
Do you think there’s a good model the US can move towards? I’ve always though of Portugal as a good example.
How do you think the recent legalization of recreational marijuana will go in MA? My town decided to moronically pass up on the tax revenue, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the rest of the state.
The best model is the U.S. before 1914: no prohibition of any drug or alcohol. As a second best, Portugal is a quite good.
MA’s legalization seems likely to be somewhat tortured; the public health community is trying hard to undo the ballot initiative.
Prof, thoughts on Portugal’s drug decriminalization in 2001? (go Crimson)
A huge step in right direction. Ideally would go farther: full legalization. But current UN treaties make that awkward.
In your opinion would legalizing drugs lead to fewer overdoes because purity is more manageable or would we see more because of increased access?
Exactly. Most of the overdoses come from non-medical use that arises when people are cut off from medical or other legal supply (e.g., methadone maintenance). Use of almost anything is much riskier in a black market because quality control is worse.
I live in San Francisco. What the hell is going on with people doing heroin? There are needles in the streets, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out for most addicts. I’ve seen 2 people shoot up heroin in public. That’s apparently a low number in this city.
What are the current “ways out” of heroin addiction, and what programs could I donate to to help?
The way out of the heroin problem is heroin legalization: it would be cheaper, so far fewer people would inject; and people would know the dosage, so far fewer would OD.
Realistically, the best path is to support Medication Assisted Treatment, i.e., methadone and buprenorphine.
Dr. Miron, first off, thank you for doing an AMA. Looking forward to reading all the responses.
Second, how do we draw the line today and in the future between ‘harmless’ drugs and ‘harmful’ drugs, especially when new variants or types of drugs pop up all the time? How do we create a robust system to differentiate drugs?
I don’t think we can differentiate in a meaningful way, because the main negatives come from prohibition, independent of the properties of the prohibited good. If we outlawed caffeine, we would have a violent black market with poor quality control in which people suffered far more adverse effects from caffeine than now.
I heard someone talking about this on NPR a few days ago. He brought up an aspect I hadn’t thought of–that organized criminals in states with more medical/recreational cannabis have shifted their black market endeavors to things like identity theft, manufacture of counterfeit IDs, human trafficking, etc.
He wasn’t making an argument for continued prohibition, rather that the underlying social issues of poverty cycles, gangs, low-education, and recidivism need to be addressed if we want to reduce criminal activity.
Lifting prohibition isn’t a panacea. If drugs are legalized, what solutions do you propose to address those social issues that incubate and perpetuate criminal activity?
The war on drugs has destroyed countless lives. Thank you for your time.
[I] agree that legalization is not a panacea. To some degree, the other policies we need to reduce crime are also reductions or eliminations of prohibitions, however. For example, manufacture of counterfeit IDs is a big deal because we restrict immigration; human trafficking is a problem in part because we outlaw [prostitution].
Nevertheless, policies that improve education, e.g., are also important.
Hi, Jeff! What’s your favorite song off of Lost in the Dream? “Red Eyes”? “An Ocean in Between the Waves”?
I kid, of course-you’re asking about the other War on Drugs. Do you think that public opinion will shift to the point where opposing the War on Drugs isn’t a dealbreaker?
For marijuana, has roughly shifted that much so far. For other drugs, it’s going to take a while.
In your mind, what is the key difference between drug legalization and decriminalization?
Legalization brings the supply side above ground. That eliminates the violence and quality control problems, and allows normal taxation.
Given known levels of drug use, demand, and price, approximately how much tax revenue would the U.S. stand to collect if we legalized and regulated all drug use, taxing it at a similar rate as alcohol?
ballpark $50 billion per year. google “miron waldock cato.”
Thanks for the response! That is indeed a hell of a lot of money. Here’s the report for anyone else interested: https://www.cato.org/publications/white-paper/budgetary-impact-ending-drug-prohibition
On a sort of opposite note from many questions already posted: Can you describe what some of the adverse economic effects stemming from overall legalization might be, and how they might be meaningfully addressed? I understand that the potential adverse effects from legalization of a drug like heroin may be different from legalization of a drug like marijuana, but are there any unifying characteristics?
Thanks for stopping by!
The only real negative I can imagine is that a few people who do not currently use will perhaps try newly legalized drugs and, in some cases, have bad experiences. But evidence suggests that’s a a modest number, and of course has to be balanced against all the benefits of legalization.
Hi Professor Miron. As a young, millennial, graduate student in government, I was wondering to what degree you feel drug policy is affected by the older generation as opposed to the younger. Further, in what ways do you expect anti-drug sentiment to shift as millennials begin to age and take more prominent roles in policy?
Well, I am a lot older than a graduate student, and I grew up hearing that as the baby boom generation matured, legalization would occur. Happened a bit, but not to an overwhelming degree. I guess many people get more conservative, at least about drugs, as they age. So, we have to convince old folks too!