How The ‘War on Drugs’ Has Made Dealers More Efficient

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For years, the war on drugs has been called a failure. The most recent White House drug czar, Michael Botticelli, decried the “old war on drugs” as a set of “failed policies and failed practices.” To some drug policy experts, this was all too predictable. Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies argues that the rules of evolution could have helped predict the drug war’s failures,  and how the drug war can in fact make our drug epidemics worse, reports Because drugs are always in demand and highly profitable, dismantling one drug trafficking organization means that another drug trafficking organization replaces it, filling the same demand that the old group filled.

This has happened time and time again throughout the war on drugs. A primary goal of the drug war is to make drugs more expensive by limiting their supply, but this makes drugs immensely profitable: They still cost as little as pennies per dose to produce, while the final street value has to account for the risk of shipping the drug through an international supply chain that can be broken by government authorities at any border. Drug traffickers have become more efficient in response to drug war policies. Over time, traffickers have begun to trade more and more in an even more potent (and deadlier) opioid: fentanyl. For traffickers, it made financial sense: Fentanyl is more potent but is also fairly cheap to produce. Traffickers can promise a high at a lower dose, which means they have to smuggle less of the product (making it easier to conceal), for a similar or even greater profit. These types of unintended consequences are why Tree says we should totally rethink the drug war.

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