The American discussion of society's drug policy alternatives focuses on the extent of drug use. That is, when comparing alternative policies, emphasis seems to be given to which policy will result in the lower prevalence of drug use. This Note adopts instead a "harms minimization" criterion, asking what choices minimize the harms resulting from drug use and drug control. This approach takes account of the fact that many, though not all, of the adverse consequences of drug use are a function of the policies used to restrain that behavior. The evidence suggests that (1) general user sanctions have little deterrent effect; (2) vigorous enforcement against high-level dealers, smugglers, and refiners does little to raise the retail price, but may engender instability in producer countries, corruption in transit nations, and may select out the more suspicious distribution organizations in the United States; and (3) saturated enforcement against dealers in street markets increases the level of violence associated with such trafficking. The author concludes that policymakers should consider moving enforcement to the fringes of drug policy, aiming at getting dependent users into treatment and making drug dealing less conspicuous, and thus drugs less available to novice users.
Reuter, Peter, On the Consequences of Toughness. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1991. https://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/N3447.html. Also available in print form.
Reuter, Peter, On the Consequences of Toughness, RAND Corporation, N-3447-DPRC, 1991. As of November 29, 2023: https://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/N3447.html