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Lift Restrictions on Unprocessed Materials

Applying Freakonomics to the Drugs Trade
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Numerous countries restrict the import of various things due to their potential for illicit drug use. However, all of these countries recognise the value of controlled use of the same drugs.

This means that;

Afghan farmers grow Poppies that are used both for legal and illegal heroin production.

Colombian farmers grow coca plants that are used both for legal and illegal cocaine production.*

Yet international movements of the raw material for these products are heavily (and expensively) controlled - despite the raw constituents being relatively benign in comparison to their processed derivatives.

This heavy control on supply creates artificially high profit margins for those willing to break international law, funding them well enough to exert an incredible amount of power over the farmers who grow the stuff, as well as funding vast and complex organisations dealing with shipment, money laundering, etc.

This in turn creates regions of political instability, where it is profitable (and militarily possible, with suitable funding) to flout common standards of law, order and democracy.

Looking at the problems caused by illicit drugs, we have to include those who suffer at the production end just as much (if not more than) those who suffer at the usage end.

Were we to limit import/export restrictions only to the processed forms of these drugs, we would be able to remove the control of ruthless coca/heroin barons over remote but vast areas of the globe, while still maintaining some control over drug production (both legal and illicit) since all processed forms of these drugs could be performed safely within a country's borders at government licensed facilities.

It would become cost effective for illegal sellers of drugs to open their own back-yard processing facilities in order to produce their own derivatives from raw product, rather than rely on international criminal gangs to continue producing it abroad and smuggling it in over the borders. This again would break down the established international hierarchies of crime, while still allowing national police forces to control any such facilities (as they might do already for methamphetamine, crack labs or whiskey stills).

Essentially, by reducing the profit margins by democratising production (an open-source drugs policy if you will) which in turn should disperse those operating illegal refinement facilities, (once more further reducing potential profit margins) there should** be an overall reduction in drug usage and hence, related crime.

This leads towards a twin strategy, a complete liberalisation on the cultivation and distribution of raw materials (within and across borders) whilst maintaining a strict control over the processed derivatives of those materials.

*The two examples used here are coca, and opium poppies - but I'm sure there must be other examples of this kind of restriction. The point about legal and illegal usage is to suggest that the actual growers themselves are not necessarily evil, breaking the law, or doing anything that might be considered wrong - it's those in control of these farmers, and their product's distribution that this idea seeks to address.

**With low profit margins and access made available to more (still illegal) players in the field, there should to be less coercion for people to get involved in drugs in the first place.

zen_tom, Nov 22 2006

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       Localized drug production would not mean quality control would be any better. Legalization combined with good education would deflate crime, but government regulation also helps to protect people (think fen-phen). The war on drugs/prohibition doesn't seem to be a great idea, but not controlling them at all may not be wise either. Best working policies deal with different drugs differently.
jmvw, Nov 22 2006
  

       //Would Milton Friedman have aligned to this// Possibly, or possibly not, but Gilbert Shelton would love it.   

       [jmvw] This idea does not address issues of quality control (which are quite valid, with precendents in moonshine and poitín containing dangerous wood alcohol) - but with powders being cut with all manner of vim and substancery, I don't think it's high on the distributors list of priorities. Remember we're not suggesting we stop controlling drugs - just their biological precursors. Even in the prohibition days, we didn't impose controls on grains, sugar, hops or fruit - just the derivatives of these when processed into alcohol.
zen_tom, Nov 22 2006
  

       I'm all for legalisation of all drugs with the associated openess and enhanced ability to control purity, bring the issues out into the open and the oppourtunity for taxation. One caveat though, drug taxation should go back into healthcare with a substatial amount if it earmarked to assist those who wish to quit drug use. These people could then be helped effectively in an open and honest atmosphere.
webfishrune, Nov 22 2006
  

       So you don't think that (prices of raw material being what they are) you'd just instill a supply-side disturbance into what is in essence currently a stable market? Rather than coca production based in equatorial America and opium production centered in Afghanistan and SE Asia, with minor grow operations in other countries, market forces would dictate expansions in countries without criminal infrastructure (costs of doing business being what they are).   

       Mexico, for instance, could utilize free trade conditions to explode its poppy growing. Coca could become south China's new rice, and with total control over land and people, the south Asians could be the reigning speedball champions in no time at all. Unless the big consumers coalesce and start doling out farm aid to Afghanistan and the like (operation Desert Stir, anyone?).
reensure, Nov 22 2006
  

       Quite right reensure, coca and poppies are grown entirely legally in Afghanistan and Colombia already. If Mexico, and China got in on the act, more supply would drive prices down even further, doing the drug gangs out of an income, and bringing a once lucritive business into line with the more mundane primary industries (tea, cocoa, bananas etc) It's not the drugs themselves that bring the negative social consequences, it's the power (and so, money, and so power, and so...etc) that can be attained by limiting supply of a controlled substance. If you open supply, and remove the profit margins, you regain control over the situation, only by economic means, rather than martial ones.
zen_tom, Nov 22 2006
  
      
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