Vice Squad
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Regulating Cocaine

Here's a short paper on regulating cocaine through a behavioral economics lens, employing the double default approach.

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Monday, August 06, 2012
The Double Default Approach to Re-Legalizing Drugs

In my previous post I mentioned, somewhat enigmatically, my double default approach to re-legalizing drugs. I suspect that I will have more to say later, but a short, ungated description can be found here.

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Sunday, August 05, 2012
Low-Risk Legalization Experiments

One of the main anti-legalization arguments mustered by drug prohibitionists is that any legalization experiment is so fraught with the prospect of producing huge numbers of new addicts that legalization cannot safely be tried. Here is my response to one such claim, that appearing in Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken. This response does not spell out my full "double default" model of drug re-legalization, but is consistent with it.

Low-Coercion, Low-Risk Drug Policy Experiments

In their recent book, Drugs and Drug Policy, Mark A. R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken (Oxford University Press, 2011) examine what they call (pages 18-21) a “no coercion” drug policy. Their description of such a policy is that drug buying and selling would generally be left unencumbered, though there would be dissuasion from immoderate use of drugs and help for people seeking to limit consumption that had spiraled out of control. “No coercion,” then, is a fairly full-bore legalization policy: presumably drug sales to children would remain proscribed. Kleiman, Caulkins, and Hawken (henceforth KCH) note that a no coercion policy might – or might not – be preferable to the current prohibition. They warn against undertaking a no coercion experiment, however, because either the experiment would have to be so limited in scope that it would not provide good evidence of what would be wrought by a full-scale legalization, or because a broad experiment might lead to a substantial increase in the number of heavy users, such that the compelled cessation of the experiment would result not in the status quo ante, but in a prohibition with many times the addicted users, and many times the social costs, as we have now with our current drug ban.

There’s an air of futility about the KCH analysis, a feeling that we are more-or-less stuck with drug prohibition, even though it might be a lot worse than feasible alternatives. But all is not futile. There are experiments that can offer evidence on whether some forms of legalization might dominate prohibition, and that do not run serious risks of inciting huge increases in addiction. These might not be “no” coercion experiments, but they are nearly-no-coercion, at least for users.

Even if drug prohibition did not entail so many baleful consequences – half a million prisoners, more than a million and a half arrests annually (mostly for small-scale drug possession), violent black markets – a workable low-coercion drug policy would be desirable, for many reasons. First, you don’t have to be some evil, alien being to be interested in taking drugs. Many reasonable adults want to use the currently illegal drugs, and are willing to pay high prices and run not-insignificant risks to do so. Second, most use of drugs, even under the adverse conditions fostered by prohibition and even for harder drugs, is not particularly detrimental, either personally or socially. Third, people have a strong incentive to avoid or end addictions, which are terribly costly. These three observations suggest that appropriate policy regimes can harness self-interest to do most of the work in controlling drugs, while saving coercive measures for socially harmful elements of drug consumption, and focusing treatment resources on those with the greatest medical needs.

What might a low-risk, low-coercion experiment look like? Sellers would still be licensed and regulated, as they currently are for alcohol or for prescription drugs. The low risk comes from the fact that drugs would not be available for purchase by every adult (unlike alcohol or tobacco). Rather, adults would apply for a license that would allow them to acquire their drug of choice through legal, regulated channels.
Read more »

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Toward Drug Control

A new working paper, related to my TEDx talk, is now available on ssrn. It's "Toward Drug Control: Exclusion and Buyer Licensing." The abstract is below, and the paper can be downloaded here: Here's the abstract:

The uncertainties associated with the precise nature of legalization regimes and with their expected outcomes sometimes are used to justify the maintenance of drug prohibition. This paper details the role that buyer licensing and exclusion might play in implementing a low-risk, post-prohibition drug regulatory regime. Buyer licensing and exclusion provide assistance to those who exhibit or are worried about self-control problems with drugs, while not being significantly constraining upon those who are informed and satisfied drug consumers. Relative to prohibition, licensing and self-exclusion can be part of a drug regulatory structure that is much more finely tuned to the risks of harms stemming from drug use. 

Update, August 2012: The revised, published version is available (for those with access to SpringerLink) here. The revisions are meaningful, in that a "double default" system of legal access to currently illegal drugs is developed; I will post more about this system on Vice Squad soon, I hope.

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Monday, May 23, 2011
"Re-Legalizing Drugs"

On April 17, 2011, I gave a talk (yes, "Re-Legalizing Drugs") as part of the TEDxUChicago festivities. The whole 17-minute ordeal is viewable here.

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Monday, March 01, 2010
"...their ends, none of our own"

Of 1,577 posts, this, the poor last, we make from your pixels.

The plan was to continue to blog a sort of summary of surprise bestseller Regulating Vice, and then to fade away. Alas, "Our wills and fates do so contrary run..." that events have taken a different turn, and we exited the blogostage in silence and without conscious intent. Apologies for this neglect.

But while Vice Squad lasted, it was exhilarating for me. Thanks to all of you who made it so. Yesterday I launched a successor blog of sorts, though one much more limited in scope: Self-Exclusion, a Vice Squad obsession. "Now bless thyself: thou mettest with things dying, I with things newborn."

[Update: OK, this proved to be not quite the last post....]


Monday, July 14, 2008
Self-Exclusion Litigants

Having self-excluded from blogging while abroad, Vice Squad is behind in all our standard obsessions, including self-exclusion. People who joined self-exclusion lists for casinos in Ontario have filed a class action suit. Their gripe is that the casino regulators were not assiduous in keeping the excluded gamblers away. If the authorities in Ontario catch a self-excluded individual trying to sneak into a casino, that person can be charged with trespassing.

Compulsive gambling experts tend to emphasize the personal responsibility of the gamblers themselves to overcome their addiction, and many self-exclusion programs declare that ultimately, it is the bettor's responsibility to keep away. Nevertheless, successful self-exclusion programs do require a credible threat of enforcement, and casinos may well have to be monitored to ensure that they put some effort into erecting and maintaining entry barriers aimed at those on the excluded list. Self-excluded individuals tend to be heavy gamblers, of course, and hence a very profitable clientèle for the casinos. So gambling establishments might have a financial interest in looking the other way when a self-excluded (former) patron walks in the door.

In other self-exclusion news, remember that fellow who wanted a self-exclusion litigant's name revealed? The court had only released the litigant's initials, and this other guy had the same initials, so people too lazy to look deeply into the matter kept thinking that the other dude was the self-exclusion litigant. (I can sympathize, being frequently confused by the unwashed masses with Japan Airlines.) The court rendered a Solomonic decision: the name of the original litigant would not be revealed (in keeping with the anonymity promised to those who place themselves on New Jersey's self-exclusion list), but the court officially affirmed that the "initial" gambler was someone other than the later complainant.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008
The Mosley Case

Repugnance is a funny thing. Many things that were widely viewed as repugnant years ago, such as blood transfusions or charging interest for loans, are widely accepted today. And other practices that used to be common and accepted -- indentured servitude, say -- have come to be viewed with repugnance. (See economist Alvin Roth's paper for more on repugnance.) Out-of-the mainstream sexual behaviors seem to be losing their repugnance for many people; there was no hint of residual repugnance in the Supreme Court's 2003 overturning of anti-sodomy statutes. And now, in Britain, there is a trial that holds the prospect of reducing the repugnance that sometimes is induced by or aimed at sadomasochism. The case involves a claim of invasion of privacy.

The basic story is that a British tabloid solicited some footage of a sadomasochistic afternoon involving 5 prostitutes and a prominent 68-year old motor-sport and married man, Max Mosley, whose father Oswald was a leading British fascist of the 1930s. [Oswald and his second wife, Max's mother, were interred by the British during the war, around the time that Max was born and toddling through his early years.] The sadomasochistic scene involved some German authoritarian role play, which the tabloid deemed to be Nazi-themed; the not-safe-for-work footage is you-tubeable. (The dominatrix who recorded the activities, slated to be a chief witness for the newspaper, has been dropped from testifying.) Max is contending that the S&M session was a private matter of no public interest. The newspaper's best defence, I suppose, is that the session involved illegal S&M, and the fact that the behavior was criminal provides a public interest. (Prostitution per se is not illegal in Britain, and that angle does not appear to be helpful to the newspaper. Some of the prostitutes have testified for Mosley, and there is no whiff of coercion in the pricey five hour affair, which ended with a cup of tea, of course.)

Is S&M illegal in Britain? Yes, if the practice involves lasting bodily damage -- though there is some dispute over how lasting that damage has to be. The legal standard dates from a 1980's case (the Spanner case) arising out of consensual homosexual S&M activities.

But win or lose, the Mosley case might be reducing the repugnance that is sometimes felt towards sadomasochism. Seemingly normal people enjoy it and practice it -- why should others care? Mosley claims that he has been an S&M enthusiast for 45 years, and he defended the behavior in court:
Impassive in a charcoal suit and sober tie he [Mosley] told the court: “I definitely disagree with the suggestion that any of this is depraved or immoral” adding that it was a “perfectly harmless act between consenting adults.”
Mosley's position has been gaining broad support -- and perhaps increasing the acceptance of S&M by non-practitioners.

Vice Squad, now back in Chicago after a (masochistic?) couple of months abroad, proposes some regulation of adult extreme S&M (6-page pdf here).

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Saturday, May 24, 2008
Briar Patch Justice

Apologies for bloggish neglect of late -- Tbilisi does not believe in blogging. But I have pried a moment away from my khachapuri to send along an update on those federal obscenity charges aimed at a woman who placed sexually violent stories on the internet. Among the unusual features of this prosecution is that the charges -- which concerned adult obscenity only, even though some of the characters in her fictional tales were minors -- were aimed at text, mere words: there were no drawings or photos. A second unusual feature is that the defendant, who seems to have had a hard life, suffers from agoraphobia. This latter feature played a role in the resolution of the case, because she was in no condition to be coming to a courtroom for weeks on end. The woman has agreed to a settlement in which she pleads guilty and is sentenced to --- home confinement, to which her medical condition had essentially sentenced her long ago. A sad story all around, though not as sad as what might have happened with a full blown trial. And federal prosecutors have succeeded in cleaning up the internet through this fiendishly clever legal maneuvering. Of course, it has come at some cost: they may have momentarily averted their gaze from that dastardly Tommy Chong.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Making Self-Exclusion Work Better

While Vice Squad is a big proponent of the principle of vice self-exclusion programs, the practice in US casinos leaves much to be desired. It seems to be relatively easy, for instance, for some self-excluded gamblers to return to a casino without much hindrance. A check of IDs for all gamblers, or a more universal use of smart cards that hook into gambling machines, might help to make self-exclusion programs more reliable.

One of the standard features of a self-exclusion program is that someone who has volunteered to join the excluded ranks is removed from the list of those who are sent promotional material. This is another area of slippage between theory and practice, apparently. The Illinois Gaming Board is fining a casino $800,000 for not sealing off the self-excluded from marketing appeals. The same casino received a $600,000 fine for similar activities two years ago. I would think that these significant fines will concentrate casino minds on providing a more effective barrier between their promotions and self-excluded gamblers.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008
Hey, I Am Not That Self-Exclusion Guy...

...I am a different self-exclusion guy. Recently, a man from Delaware wanted to remove himself from Atlantic City's gambling self-exclusion list, in part because he found that the privately-owned AC casinos also barred him from their establishments in other locales. There was a fair amount of media (and Vice Squad?) coverage of his case, which he lost, but the excluded gambler was identified only by his initials. It turns out that initials are not like fingerprints, one unique set per person. (Maybe fingerprints are not like fingerprints, either.) A man in Florida has same the initials as the fellow excluded from Atlantic City casinos -- and the Floridian is none too pleased about the publicity surrounding the case. Seems that people keep suspecting that he (the Florida man) is the current litigant -- though he is not. Those folks might be confused because, in addition to the eerie initial coincidence, the Florida man is a known gambler and a former self-excluder, having signed up for a one-year ban in 2003. How to end the confusion? The Florida man wants the court to release the full name of the litigant. But full names are not unique, either....

I like to think of myself as the Self-Exclusion Guy.

Sorry for disappearing under the blogoscope. My temporary relocation has made it hard to participate in Web 2.0.

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Monday, May 12, 2008
Vice Squad Returns

Well, sort of returns. Vice Squad is now firmly settled in Tbilisi, after passing through the UK. The vice news there was that yet another head of government, this time Gordon Brown, joined a long, distinguished list of past potentates who made the mistake of convening an expert panel on marijuana policy. As usual, the experts reported back that mj should be essentially decriminalised, and as usual, the government immediately ignored the report -- this time even moving to increase penalties for marijuana possession. (That two years you could get for possession of a joint just wasn't sufficient, so Class B status was necessary to put potheads away for five years.)

London has a new mayor, and a new policy on its underground and bus system -- as of June 1, no more (legal) drinking on the Tube. Americans can file this one under "What, you mean you used to be able to drink openly on the Tube?" Speaking of the new mayor, he celebrated his swearing in by going to a casino. During the campaign, he was a bit wobbly on Britain's smoking ban, too.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008
Beijing Bans Public Smoking

The ban applies to public buildings, but not to bars and restaurants -- those establishments must have no-smoking sections, however. There are apparently 100,000 current government employees who will be enlisted as enforcers, according to this BBC report, which also provides an interesting factoid: "For every three cigarettes lit worldwide, one is smoked in China." (I just lighted three cigarettes -- how does China know to have someone take a smoke?)

Vice Squad, indolent of late, is taking to the road for a couple of months. For the next week or so, blogging will be minimal, I fear. Perhaps I will light three more cigarettes to deal with my apprehension.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008
The Poisoned Fruits of Comstockery

Anthony Comstock, licensed vice suppressor, would brag of the people he drove to suicide by prosecuting them for their First Amendment-protected activity. (Though it took a long time and much persecution for their activity to receive First Amendment protection.) Comstock's victims included Ida Craddock, whom he pursued Javert-like.

Our current Comstockery has claimed another victim, it seems, today. Comstock would be proud. This victim even was convicted in Comstock-fashion, for misusing the mails. Hers is the second needless death from this pointless prosecution of voluntary adult behavior. Madness envelops us.

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