Police & Prohibition

Marijuana has been much in the Vancouver news lately. A local radio station ran quotes from a police officer who said he was worried about the increasing acceptance of pot among the public (he might have added that such left-wing organs as The Economist are also in favor of legalization). He made one good point, and one very poor one.

A serious concern with the prohibition of marijuana is the organized crime that profits from it. Vancouver is the cannabis capital of Canada; it also has one of the highest property crime rates in North America. Given the size of the drug trade (some reports claim it is B.C.‘s largest industry) it seems obvious the two are connected. This is a city where landlords and house buyers must worry about whether a property has been damaged by a grow-op. Most of the illegal guns here are imported from the States, paid for by drug running. And if my car is stolen or my house is broken into, chances are it’s a side-effect of drug prohibition.

The officer said that legalization would not solve all the problems: gangs would continue to smuggle pot into the United States. That was his good point. His bad one was that any tax benefit would be eliminated by the health costs of smoking marijuana. This ignores the experience of other countries – such as the Netherlands – which experienced no significant increase in usage when they decriminalized the drug. It also conveniently skips over other cost savings, in particular, the reduced cost of policing.

This is why the police only enforce laws; they do not make them. They are caught in an inherent conflict of interest. Attacking drugs is what this officer is paid to do. He can only tell one side of the story. But he does point to the one and only good reason for not legalizing pot: the American drug war. The question is whether keeping our neighbors happy is worth the cost we pay in crime and violence.