Price of Illegal Drugs Is Dropping, Purity Is Increasing, and the Global War on Drugs Is Failing

When you’re fighting a conventional war, it is generally easy to tell when you’re winning and losing.  Territory gained and lost, troops captured and killed, and objectives met and missed all tell the generals how their war campaigns are unfolding.

But when you’re fighting a war on a noun - like the so-called War on Drugs - it is much harder to discern winners and losers.  If there is greater use of drugs, the Drug War generals in the government tell us we must fight harder.  If there is a reduction in drug use, the generals tell us the war is working and we must continue to fight.

However, when dispassionate minds review the evidence, it is becoming exceptionally clear that the War on Drugs has failed.  The latest researchers to reach this conclusion come to us from the British Medical Journal Open.

Researchers from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy looked at twenty years of drug interdiction and eradication data as well as the operation of illicit drug markets.  The lead researcher, Dr. Evan Wood, from the University of British Columbia, said simply, “the war on drugs has failed.”  Dr. Wood and his colleagues base their opinion on the fact that over twenty years of drug war, drugs are cheaper, more potent, and more available than ever.

Since 1990, the researchers noted that the seizures of cannabis have more than quintupled in the United States, but the price of cannabis, adjusted for potency and inflation, has decreased eighty-six percent.*  The increased potency of cannabis, while often exaggerated by legalization opponents, still has at least doubled in twenty years.

The same story unfolds in the data for heroin and cocaine.  Prices for both drugs are down by eighty percent, while heroin purity is up sixty percent and cocaine purity is up eleven percent in the United States.  In Europe, the price of heroin dropped seventy-four percent and cocaine price dropped fifty-one percent.  Prices declined and purity rose despite ever-increasing seizures of those drugs and eradication of the drug crops globally.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former President of Brazil reacted to the research by explaining that “[D]rugs are more harmful – to society, individuals, and the taxpayer – precisely because they are illegal.”  Seeing that the war we’ve fought for over four decades has made drugs cheaper, more potent, and as available as ever should be evidence enough for any thinking person that prohibition does not work.


*This may surprise those of you who’ve purchased some cannabis lately.  The way the math works is by citing the “price per pure gram”.  So, for a simple example, suppose you spent twenty bucks for five grams of weed back in the day, but it was only 10 percent THC.  You spent four dollars for a gram, but that equals forty dollars for a “pure gram” ($4 / 10%).  Suppose today you spent forty bucks for five grams, but it is 25 percent THC.  That would end up being thirty-two dollars for a “pure gram” ($8 / 25%).

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