Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Hey! Something in Drug Interdiction Actually Worked!

Great news: Federal measures finally were wildly successful in controlling an illegal and dangerous narcotic. Meth labs seem to be down about 70% from just five years ago.

Here's what worked:

Meth is made using (in part) an over-the-counter cold remedy, pseudoephedrine. In 2006, federal law changed so that pseudoephedrine could no longer be sold that way-- buyers had to show ID at a pharmacy to get it (though no prescription was required). The result has been a huge decrease in meth labs. Sure, more pill-form meth is coming over from Mexico, but that is not produced in such a dangerous way, nor does it result in the same kind of wide-spread devastation of poor rural communities, and there is still a net decrease.

This confirms something I have been preaching for years: What works to stop narcotics trafficking are actions based on the economics behind the drug business. Making a key ingredient very hard to get works, much more than locking up all the small-time meth-makers did.

Of course, this victory was not won by the big-budget federal law enforcement narcotics apparatus, but by an administrative measure. There is a lesson there. If we take out parts of the business which are easily replaceable (mules, street dealers, etc.), it makes little difference. However, if we analyze the drug business the way as a business, and think how to shut that business down, we are more likely to succeed. By targeting the key people, materials, and funds that make the business work we can actually make a difference. It is time to learn this lesson.

Yeah, that works for chemically-synthesized drugs (of which meth is the only one consumed in quantity), but not for cultivated plants like cocaine, heroin and marijuana. How do you remove economic incentives on otherwise legal drugs like oxycontin or hydrocodone?
I have a better question, how do we get rid of that famous “opiate of the masses”? No no, not religion...the television show Glee!!! It is clearly corrupting our youth on a scale that all narcotics combined have failed to match!
I like the cut of your jib, Anonymous.
So true, so true, Anonymous.
Glee? Is that like Ecstasy?
Anon 9:57AM Cont'd...

On a more serious note, it’s not precisely true, Lane, that “cultivated” drugs do not involve some level of chemical synthesis. Heroin, for example, is frequently mixed, or “cut”, with other compounds to dilute its toxicity and to increase the yield of a particular batch. Common pharmacological cutting agents include caffeine, chloroquine, phenolphthalein and paracetamol. These products could be regulated much like pseudoephedrine in the meth world. Assuming heroin is a normal good (in economic terms), this would decrease the productive capacity of individual heroin manufacturers, driving up the price and decreasing demand.

I have seen, however, studies that indicate demand for highly addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine is nearly inelastic (incidentally, so is demand for coffee)—meaning that demand is fairly constant across all price levels. This, in conjunction with the tremendous complexity of international trade regulation, makes the likelihood a meth-like supply change somewhat remote, though not impossible.

Still, we may all be better served if our government would focus on my original suggestion and fine FOX $10 million every time they air Glee!!!
Crop subsidies would be probably be the economic lever for cultivated drugs.

Pair that with more aggressive forfeiture efforts for land found to be used for drug trade and you could reduce the amount of drugs produced on established farms.

Obviously, that requires exceptional cooperation from foreign authorities. Which is oh so easy . . .

I like this. Lets see if we can figure out a way to get rid of all the other drugs out there.

Ecstasy - get rid of electronic music. Done.

Heroin - kill Keith Richards. Should eliminate something like 50% of the heroin trade.

Cocaine - round up all white people, between the ages of 22-40, with a profession that requires them to work in a major city, who spend an inordinate amount of time wearing blazers over Izod polo shirts, driving sports cars, and wearing sunglasses at night. Based on every 80s movie I've seen, this has to work.

Acid - do kids even do acid anymore? Anyways, if so, ban the sale of Pink Floyd records. Problem solved.

Marijuana - ban sandals, patchouli, drum circles, watching children's television if you're over 13 years old, funny internet videos, and late night snacking. Basically, if you take away the hippie's lifestyle, the drugs become unnecessary. It might also help to ban the sale of Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Government Mule, Widespread Panic, and Phish records.
It's an odd day when the authoritarian commie prosecutor is the one for legalizing drugs, and the libertarian is calling for the restriction of Pink Floyd records.

Humor aside, I think the current regulatory model of alcohol and tobacco provides the surest account of how a legalized drug trade would work, and I have a hard time as someone in law enforcement wondering how it makes more sense, from a policy and economic perspective, to continue interdiction and reduction efforts.

Once again your musical choices confound me. I'm right there with you on banning Government Mule, Widespread Panic, and Phish records. I saw Government Mule live once and its the closest I've come to falling asleep at a concert. A VERY LOUD concert, but even more boring than defending a deposition.

But the Allman Brothers???!! Admittedly, they have descended into "Jam Band" status these days, but the early stuff rocks. I defy you to listen to "Fillmore East" and not get up and want to play along.

Or Brothers and Sisters. I can't BELIEVE I left "SouthBound" off my alltime list of AWESOME driving songs! It should be required listening for all Americans. "Black Hearted Woman," "Statesboro Blues," "Whipping Post," etc. etc. etc.

Or maybe you can't match the artistry of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts?

I see your point about the Dead... but still, "Bertha," "One More Saturday Night," "Casey Jones," and a few others save them for me.
IPLawguy - you don't have to convince me. I'm in on the Allman Brothers. The first few studio records, Fillmore East, "Whipping Post", "Statesboro Blues", "Ramblin' Man". I get it.

I'm also in on anything off of American Beauty or Workingman's Dead.

However, while I like all that stuff I can also fully acknowledge that it is hippy music. Most often listened to in a grass field by barefoot, unwashed masses, spinning in circles, and smoking the reefer. Certainly this is even more true of the Allman Brothers in their current incarnation.

So, you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet. Will I miss the sweet, smooth, honey-like licks of Duane Allman? Sure I will. But the decrease in "Hippie Moments" in my life will more than offset that.
The Wire explored that option. I agree that it cannot be the corner boys that are locked up, yet those are the ones serving the time because they are expendable. However, the time and resources necessary to get to a middleman or higher are an investment that our cities are not willing to make because it costs more, takes longer, and does not receive a lot of press in the meantime.
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