Drug prohibition has not eliminated all drug use, but in the case of cocaine there is clear evidence that it has reduced use and reduced the costs society pays for drug use. While cocaine enforcement efforts, greatly increased in the past decade, have reached a point of diminishing returns, it would be a grave mistake to turn to legalization as an alternative. Legalized cocaine would cost no more than about three percent of today's black market price, and consumption would surely increase dramatically. Under today's conditions, where the cocaine epidemic has reached a plateau with lower rates of initiation and a stable set of aging users, the challenges facing drug policy are different than they were 20 years ago when cocaine usage was beginning its surge. The best results will be obtained not from measures such as giving very long mandatory prison sentences to typical drug sellers, but rather from creative combinations of enforcement and treatment efforts, targeting police efforts to the sellers and markets that do the most social damage, and expanding the use of new enforcement tactics that have proven their efficiency. Prohibition must be maintained, but a "smart prohibition" is needed to get additional results.
Originally published in: Lexington Institute, Arlington, Va., pp. 1-13.
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