US CO: Editorial: Time For Change
(13 Mar 2006) Gazette Colorado
Failed Drug War Should Be Re-Examined
Border security seems to be in the news often these days. The focus usually is on the people coming into this country from Mexico and Central America. Little media attention is paid to drug-smuggling operations, so little attention is paid by the American people to a failed border policy that has been going on for decades -- border skirmishes in the drug war.
Since January, nearly 50 people have been killed in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. On Tuesday, a state police chief was killed and two other officers wounded when their car was fired on by well-armed assailants. The ambush-style shootings are being blamed on drug lords battling over smuggling routes into the United States. These latest victims can be added to the rising costs of an American drug control policy that does little to keep drugs off the streets in U.S. cities, while racking up huge bills.
Drug warriors in this country like to trumpet their successes in the media, posing with large caches of drugs and weapons they've taken from smugglers and dealers. And for that dangerous work they are to be lauded. But the larger picture shows that for all the foot soldiers' risky work, the supply of available drugs seems little changed. Don't blame that on the folks on the front lines; the fault lies further up the chain of command and is the result of a faulty premise.
The drug war is based on the idea that if the government wishes something to go away, it can simply outlaw it. Apparently those in charge of the nation's drug policy were absent from history class the day Prohibition was covered. It didn't work in the 1920s and it's not working now, because it ignores one of the basic tenets of freedom: so long as the rights of others are not harmed, what one does with one's own body is not the business of government.
An argument can be made that by spending, say, the rent money on drugs, parents expose their children to the possibility of homelessness and a host of other woes. That's true, but it's a societal problem rather than a legal one. And making drugs illegal hasn't kept people from using them.
Defenders of the drug war will point to the Nuevo Laredo victims and ask if their rights were not violated by drug lords. Of course they were, but that's a result of drug prohibition, not drug use. Drug lords are willing to kill to protect their business because of the huge profits involved in the drug trade. Those profits are in direct correlation to the risk involved. That's basic economics.
In the drug trade, the risk comes from dealers attempting to monopolize the market and government officials trying to close the market. In the absence of prohibition, the threat of arrest would be eliminated and danger from other dealers would be reduced because the profits would be smaller.
In a free society, people should be free to make choices with little or no interference from government. Many, if not most, Americans don't see a need for government to meddle in their lives. After all, most of us are upstanding citizens, right? Ah, but those other folks; they need the nanny government to look out for them and limit their choices. Actually, very few of them need someone else to look out for their best interests. And in even fewer cases would the government be the proper custodian. Now might not be the time to legalize drugs, but it's certainly the time to honestly evaluate our current policy, because it's not working.
Our southern border isn't the only one where drugs come into this country illegally. Thousands of Americans buy prescription medications on the Internet and have them shipped from Canada. They spend less money and most likely get medicine identical to what's available at the corner pharmacy. Everyone's a winner.
Reimporting medicine into this country is a federal crime and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have stepped up enforcement of the law in recent years. In November, the agency added non-prescription medications to the list of items to be seized. According to an Associated Press report, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson examined Customs data and said nearly 13,000 packages of medicine have been seized since then. That's a lot of folks either doing without or paying twice for their medicine.
The root of the problem of high prices for medicine isn't greed on the part of pharmaceutical companies; it's government meddling in the marketplace. Canada and many European nations limit the price companies can charge for medicine sold within their borders. They're not doing anyone any favors.
Pharmaceutical companies rely on profits to fund research and development of new medicines and stay in business. Price caps limit those profits and shift the burden of R & D costs to those countries that allow the free market to set prices. That shift boosts prices in those markets, meaning those consumers subsidize the medicine costs in markets with price caps.
Rising medical costs tempt some to call for laws that allow cheaper medicines from overseas or price caps in the United States. Both are bad ideas. Allowing Americans to purchase medicine from foreign stockpiles would limit the medicine available in those countries. Canada and other nations aren't going to allow their citizens to go without medicine, so they'll likely pass laws banning such exports. And the pharmaceutical companies aren't fools; if they see U.S. sales dip as foreign sales rise -- and the resulting profit loss -- they'll cut back on the amount of medicine sold overseas. After all that, Americans will be right back where we are now.
A better solution would be to get the rest of the world to pay it's share of R & D costs by eliminating price caps. Then the market could set prices, rather than government. Price caps don't limit profits; they simply shift them to other consumers.