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Mark Kleiman (1 of 2) Comments on Drugs, Violence and Putting Cartels Out of Businessess

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Published on Jul 13, 2012

Will Rogers once said that "it's not what you don't know that hurts you; it's what you know that ain't so." Everybody knows that drug abuse and crime are sort of the same thing, and therefore fighting the war on drugs is a good way to reduce crime. Unfortunately, that ain't so. And we distinguish sharply between policies to reduce drug abuse and the damage that it does to individuals and the people around them, and policies to reduce predatory crime, which is roughly hurting people and taking their stuff in all its varieties. And yes, drug abuse has a connection with predatory crime, but it's not the same thing, and a lot of the stuff we do that's supposed to control drug abuse actually turns out to increase predatory crime. We can think about not doing that.

In particular, drug law enforcement has a natural tendency to increase the stakes in drug dealing—put more money on the table, put more time behind bars at risk and therefore to increase the value of violence to people engaged in illicit drug trade. So we should expect all things equal, that ramping up drug law enforcement is going to increase rather than decrease violence. That's what we've been seeing in Mexico. Now, that doesn't have to be true. You can focus drug law enforcement in a way that reduces violence by in effect saying to market participants, "your chances of being nailed for your drug dealing activity goes up if you hurt people in the process."

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