Vacation spot, not legalization experiment

Glen Whitman has convinced me that, being pro-legalization, I should disclaim Mexico's drug legalization effort.

In a nutshell, they are only legalizing possession of very small amounts so that they'll have more resources to go after producers and suppliers, whose activities are still illegal. But this legalization will increase demand, which will increase the profits from being an (illegal) producer or supplier, and thus increase the violence, crime, etc. associated with the drug trade, because it is still illegal

The only loophole I can see is if some of these drugs can be produced individually in amounts small enough to be legal.

This shows the importance of understanding exactly how drugs cause problems when trying to come up with a better solution. There is one pro-legalization view which says that the main harm from drugs is the fact that they are illegal, which causes problems in the lives of the users. And while it is true that illegality makes things worse on users, that is not the main impact of prohibition.

The actual problem seems more to be that by making this good with inelastic demand illegal, you restrict the supply, add lots of extra cost, thus making prices very high. When there is a high-priced good that is easy to produce, lots of people will produce it. If it's illegal, and there are huge profits to be made, they will then fight over it. If this view is correct, crime will mostly come from the dealers, not the users, and decriminalization of possession will not reduce crime.

It will still make it a nicer place to vacation.

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Seems to me there are

Seems to me there are probably far fewer dealers than users, so potentially this could vastly reduce the total number of people who are candidates for being imprisoned for possession, and so reduce the number of people who actually are imprisoned for possession. Which seems a net positive.

I basically made the same

I basically made the same argument, that this was bad policy that was going to harm any attempts at legalization in the US. Activists will point at (what I believe will be) an increase in violence after decriminalization and try to make some point about drugs being inherently "bad."

Decriminalization: Win the

Decriminalization: Win the Battle, Lose the War
I think that decriminalization will end up increasing the rate of violent crimes. By increasing demand and increasing the costs of supply...

I doubt that the illegality

I doubt that the illegality of small-time posession has ever been a significant source of violent crime. I can imagine druggies ripping each other off ("you stole my wallet / stereo / girlfriend") and/or indulging in petty assault ("... so now I'm going to beat the crap out of you with a tire iron and get back my wallet / stereo / that lying bitch of a girlfriend"). It's possible that kind of crime will subside somewhat if the victims can involve the police without fear of getting busted when the cops find their stash. But I think that kind of crime pales in significance to the kinds of rip-offs, assault, and murder that are involved in the commercial drug trade - since that hasn't been legalized, there is unlikely to be any change.

Someone pointed out on Cafe Hayek that the decriminalization of petty posession is at the discretion of the local authorities and thus provides plenty of leeway for increased corruption. However, considering what a poor reputation the Mexican police have already I'm skeptical that it will make things much worse.

I'm not convinced that

I'm not convinced that demand-side legalization will drive up supply-side violence.

As it stands, the cost to consumers is a combination of nominal monetary cost and of legal threats of violence, where the violence acts like a wedge between what consumers pay and what suppliers receive. As the payment mix shifts (i.e., the wedge gets smaller), consumers pay less in total, suppliers get more revenue, and the total quantity exchanged goes up. In other words, the market expands.

The important question then becomes whether violence will increase, decrease, or stay the same in an expanding black-market. Seeing as how supply-side violence is a monopoly-seeking mechanism, it may revealing to look at the trend of monopoly-seeking legislation in periods of tex-relief/industry deregulation.

In either case, there is one silver-lining. A major critique of drug legalization in the States is due to concern over violence by drug users (e.g., robbing to pay for their addiction, crimes committed while high). Any change in the distribution of violence between suppliers and consumers would shine a glaring light on the negative unintended consequences of prohibition.

Oh, also, I have my doubts

Oh, also, I have my doubts that demand for drugs is any less elastic than the demand for other luxury products. When prices go up, I suspect the typical doper buys cheaper weed or even (gasp) gets stoned less often. Just because people are willing to pay dollars for something that would cost pennies if legalized doesn't mean that the demand is inelastic, it just means that there's plenty of surplus value being captured by the black market (or, alternately, plenty of costs being imposed by the black market).

Cornelius writes: The

Cornelius writes: The important question then becomes whether violence will increase, decrease, or stay the same in an expanding black-market.

David Friedman writes that violence is roughly proportional to profits.

Violence is not the only

Violence is not the only problem with the drug war. Another problem, arguably a much bigger problem, is the number of otherwise innocent people who are imprisoned for possession.

Is producing individually,

Is producing individually, in amounts small enough to be legal, legal?

Or is it in that non-possession category that's still illegal?

Looks like it's a moot

Looks like it's a moot point.

Prohibition gave us the

Prohibition gave us the Mafia and the Kennedys. The war on drugs gave us the Crips and the Bloods. "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn".

The only loophole I can see

The only loophole I can see is if some of these drugs can be produced individually in amounts small enough to be legal.

What about the barter system? Can small-time users swap stashes with each other?