As I gear up to bring the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform website online, I thought I'd practice ripping apart the arguments for retaining prohibition. Here's one from Melanie Phillips:
The pimp state
Daily Mail, 18 December 2006
"The idea that legalising drugs would get rid of crime is simply risible. Legal drugs would always be undercut — both by lower prices and higher strengths — by a black market. The only way to eradicate such an illegal trade would be to supply unlimited quantities of all drugs totally free of charge."
If this paragraph contains Melanie's argument for prohibition then I do believe we've won. All the commonly abused but illegal drugs except cannabis would I presume be manufactured pharmaceutically were they to be legal and regulated. They would therefore be required to be without contaminants and essentially be as pure as is possible. I would be very impressed if the illegal market could produce product stronger than pure so as to draw customers away from the state. I can envisage a few desperate street pushers trying to market "110% heroin", but I doubt they would last very long.
In the case of cannabis, I would hope that pharmacies would stock a range of strengths and active ingredient ratios to suit every taste. While some customers might enjoy the lucky dip aspect of their dealer telling them "this is the good shit right here", I feel most would find their favourite legal strain and stick to it for the most part, maybe changing up for special occasions.
On the price point Melanie makes, we have to examine what motivates the drug dealer. Melanie may think they are hell bent on destroying the British way of life through any means, but the reality is that they are motivated by profit. The state on the other hand is free to set prices at whatever level they see fit. They need not necessarily profit, although it would be a lot easier to do so without the risk premium that is integral to the illegal trade. They could appoint an independent body to monitor levels of use and the level of illicit trade and to set prices designed to restrict growth of both of these factors.
I'll admit eradicating illegal trade completely might be tricky, but there aren't many people pushing alcohol on the streets of our cities, perhaps because people can be fairly sure off-licence bought booze is only going to contain the poison they enjoy and isn't going to be fortified with meths and other nastiness.
Tomorrow I plan to critique a conservative home submission by a barrister, former chief of staff to David Cameron and "World Universities Debating Champion". He'll be well used to putting together persuasive arguments that are wrong then.