Then you could sell the cocaine for a price five times higher on the street because it’s that much rarer…?
Well, yes but let’s assume that you’re the supplier. You’re no better off getting a higher price under those conditions than you would be getting a lower price with less effective interdiction.
Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia, commented that demand for cocaine in the West – rather than supply in South America – is the engine of the problem. Do you agree?
He’s absolutely right. I have always said that what seems to me to be most immoral about drug prohibition in the United States is that we impose on places like Colombia the loss of thousands of lives because we cannot enforce our own laws. Our laws make it illegal for people to consume cocaine. If we could enforce those laws, there would be no demand for cocaine. It wouldn’t pay anybody to grow the stuff. It wouldn’t pay anybody to risk being shot or arrested or what-not, in Colombia. His statement is 100% right. On the other hand, it overstates it in one respect. No matter what happens to demand – it doesn’t overstate it practically. Suppose Colombia could completely wipe out all cocaine production within Colombia – it was wholly successful. Well, then you would find cocaine production would shift elsewhere. It would move to Peru, Chile – I don’t know. Maybe Turkey. To the Golden Triangle -who knows?
So it’s impossible to eradicate supply of cocaine while there is still a demand for it?
Absolutely. As a practical matter I think it is impossible. …You understand that I’m in favour of legalising, and I always have been (on moral grounds as well as practical ones. I don’t think it’s the business of the government to tell me what I can put in my mouth any more than it’s the business of the govt to tell me what I can put in my head)
In a market economy, is there some way a government could perhaps eradicate demand?
They can only eradicate demand by being willing to impose penalties like those in Saudi Arabia. If they said anybody caught smuggling a gram of cocaine will have his arm chopped off, you’d come pretty close to eradicating cocaine use.
Do you think that would be acceptable?
No. I do not think – it’s a practical matter – it is possible to eradicate demand. And after all we’ve had a lot of experience. There has been an attempt to eradicate demand for years. There are only two groups in my opinion who benefit from the existing prohibition of drugs: there are the drug cartels – the criminal element. In the legal business there would still be producers but there would be no role for the criminal element. And the second beneficiaries are the law enforcement agencies. Expenditures on drug prohibition have gone up steadily over time. We have had a change in the laws which enable foreclosures in the name of drugs without appropriate legal protections of property. And there is no doubt that the law enforcement agencies have been engaging in foreclosure to benefit themselves.
To what extent do you agree with the idea of decertifying countries such as Colombia when they fail to stop drug production?
Well, it’s a fool’s game. WE’RE the ones who are responsible for this, not them. If we can’t get our own house in order, what the hell business to we have going about decertifying or decertifying other countries?
Why do people take up dealing drugs?
To make money. Why do you take up writing a book?
Legislators frequently portray drug dealers as ‘evil’, child killers and so forth…
Nonsense. These are people who want to make money and this is the easiest way they can make money. And certain kinds of character traits are undoubtedly advantageous in just the same way as certain kinds of character traits are advantageous in writing history books…
Locking up drug dealers forever: do you think this achieves anything all?
[laughs] No. No. As long as there are enormous profits to made from dealing drugs, unless you use really draconian measures, you’re not going to stop them.
In market terms why do you think crack cocaine was so successful?
It was cheap. In my opinion, if drugs had been legal you would not have had crack cocaine. The only reason crack cocaine was invented and developed was because it was a way of making a given amount of cocaine go farther to produce highs. So you could have cheap hits and bring the cost of cocaine down into the financial capacities of the lowest income people.