Vice Squad
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Technological Change and the Drug War

The September/October edition of Foreign Policy -- its 35th anniversary issue --features a series of essays speculating on current institutions that will not be around 35 years from now. Examples include "The King of England" and "The Chinese Communist Party," and, more to the Vice Squad purpose, "The War on Drugs." The author, Peter Schwartz, suggests that technological innovation in drugmaking will lead to local and customized production of recreational drugs. There will be specific drugs to complement certain activities, such as golf or gardening, and they will be safe. Schwartz does not foretell any wholesale legalization, however; rather, he seems to think that a de jure drug war will remain, but that de facto it won't amount to much:
We may even wistfully look back at a time when there were smugglers to be chased and coca fields to be burned. The bad guys were brutes, largely foreign or inner-city hoodlums. The new drug sellers will be chemists, most likely caught on tax-evasion charges. Users, too, will be harder to hate. They’ll look a lot like you and me.
I find Schwartz's technological take to be intriguing but not persuasive. He notes that crystal meth is a prototype of the drugs he envisions, in that it is produced locally and inexpensively -- but the current meth situation shows no signs of leading to a quiet surrender in the war on drugs. Rather the opposite, actually. My belief and hope is that the high costs, ineffectiveness, and injustice of our current war on drugs will undermine the political support for punitive drug policies, even in the absence of technological changes in drug manufacturing.

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