Vice Squad
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Suburbia v. the Inner City in Drug Policy

Yesterday Vice Squad guest blogger Professor Michael Alexeev asked why we have drug prohibition, given that a feasible alternative such as some form of partial or full legalization looks like it would be a much better overall policy. Part of the answer, I think, lies in the distribution of the costs wrought by the current policy. Prohibition rains havoc upon inner cities, but much less so upon middle-class neighborhoods. Indeed, residents of these neighborhoods are likely to view prohibition as valuable in helping to keep their children away from the scourge of drugs. The harm to foreign governments of drug prohibition also doesn't seem to receive much notice, while the costs in terms of corruption of our own government and the undermining of policing tend to be vastly underestimated, I would argue, though the reasons for such an underestimation I cannot fathom. We could add to this list the enormous vested interests in the current narco-prison complex -- though there are many police voices that are being raised against drug prohibition.

In a short article, "The Distributive Politics of Drug Policy," David Boyum compares our current drug policy regime with one that shifts away from punishment towards treatment. Not only are the costs of the current policy disproportionately borne in the inner city, Boyum notes, residents in those neighborhoods would also be the chief recipients of publicly funded treatment: "What all of this suggests is that an expansion in publicly funded drug treatment at the expense of drug enforcement is a bad deal for the middle class--at least when judged from the viewpoint of narrow self-interest."

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