Peter McKay proposes marijuana decriminalization, which doesn't solve any real problems

For once, it is good that the Harper Government consistently shows disdain for the United Nations. Yesterday the International Narcotics Control Board reprimanded Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington over moves to legalize marijuana.

Today, according to the CBC, Peter McKay announced that the government is looking at decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a ticketable offense rather than a criminal one. (McKay was careful to make it clear though that they weren't going to call it decriminalization.)

"However, MacKay is making it clear that this is not decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, but "giving police further discretion" when it comes to small amounts of pot. "The Criminal Code offences would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would give police the ability, much like the treatment of open liquor, that would allow police to ticket those types of offences," he said."
The thing is that in this instance the UN is wrong. McKay's baby step is nice in that it will prevent a few people from getting criminal records, but it doesn't really accomplish anything other than that.

Let's take a look, for a moment, at the drug market. For those of you who don't know or have never really thought about it, the market for illegal drugs functions like any other market. It is governed by supply and demand.

The supply, in the case of a black market, is sometimes interrupted by police intervention. Police generally don't get more than a small amount of the drugs that are available, but to the extent that police are successful they cause an increase in the price of drugs. Drug sellers also face risks, including violent competition from other potential drug sellers and potential criminal penalties. This also increases the price of illegal drugs.

So, the "tougher" police and politicians are on drugs, the higher the price goes. Because of this unintentional (?) subsidy the illegal drug trade had grown to represent 1% of worldwide trade as of 2003. That means a worldwide market worth $321.6 billion. It is unfortunate that those are the most recent numbers that are available, but because there have been no serious 'victories' in the drug war in the past decade, we can assume that the industry is at least that large still.

In a world where millions live in poverty, it is ridiculous to expect people to ignore an industry that large. In fact, very few people of any income bracket seem to ignore the illegal drug industry. It has led to the corruption of public officials, police officials, banks and more. The profitability and lack of a paper trail involved in the drug trade make it an attractive way for terrorist organizations, criminal organizations and allegedly the clandestine operations of developed nations to make money.

In other words, at least one percent of the global economy is going to fund clandestine operations and organizations of one kind or another. Given the size of this global operation it is ridiculous to think that arresting street level drug dealers, or even people higher up in the middle of the organization has any real impact at all. If a grill cook at McDonalds quits (or is sent to prison) McDonalds replaces him and moves on without missing a beat.

From the demand side, there is something in human nature that seeks pleasurable experiences. This includes sex, alcohol and illegal drugs. For some people, with addictive personalities, this pleasure seeking becomes an addiction and some drugs lend themselves to addictive behavior more than others.

For addicts, who make up a large part of the 'demand side' of illegal drugs it doesn't matter how expensive or difficult it is to obtain drugs. Addiction makes them feel as if they 'need' drugs the same way that you and I might 'need' food and water. When they run out of legitimate ways to pay for their fix they will turn to illegitimate or illegal methods. This, frequently, leads to the crime that people associate with drugs.

The war on drugs does not do any real damage to criminal organizations, or if it does it hurts one while helping another. It does not make cities safer or help addicts. It does not keep drugs away from kids. (Teenagers can probably get drugs easier than you can get beer.) What it does, effectively is subsidize the drug market, making it more profitable and desirable. It is roughly the equivalent of trying to fend off an invading army by giving them more money to buy weapons with.

Drugs are not, inherently, a criminal problem. Treating them as such destroys communities and lives at a cost of untold billions of dollars. Drugs, legal or illegal, prescription or otherwise are a public health issue and that's how we need to treat them. Anything else is stupid and ineffective and all of the 'drug warrior' politicians, as well as most police know that it is stupid and ineffective.
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