Redress Risk Management (post until May 31/19)

The case for legalizing cocaine and other drugs

The public-policy response to the problem of drug trafficking and its terrible effects on communities in Canada and countries abroad is to send a message through the sentencing of drug traffickers, but this response has the opposite effect than the one intended, Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.

“It is a simple law of economics that people respond to incentives. Prohibition cannot stop the supply when the economic incentive exists,” he says.

“It did not work for alcohol and it does not work for drugs. The incentives to traffic in drugs like cocaine and heroin are increased precisely because of government prohibition and the risks that people are taking in importing and trafficking, which is factored into the cost of the drug.

“The higher the sentence, the higher the risk and the more the cost of the drug. The higher the cost of the drug, the more incentive there is to traffic it.”

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, says if this situation sounds perverse to you, that's because it is. 

“You merely have to ask who is benefiting from this state of affairs,” he says. “The drug cartels and the most sophisticated drug traffickers benefit the most. The best funded and most sophisticated drug dealers are best placed to avoid detection and reap the rewards of the high price of the drugs. 

“The price of drugs like cocaine and heroin increases over time because police efforts to intercept drugs and arrest drug dealers limit the supply to the drug traffickers who are best positioned to avoid detection.”

Handlarski proposes an “easy way” to reduce the price of drugs like cocaine and heroin and cut the incentive to traffic it almost completely: “The government could legalize the personal use of drugs, find a way to cheaply produce or import the drugs and sell them at government-run dispensaries.

“Overnight, most illegal drug trafficking would cease, violence in Canadian communities over ‘turf,’ where drug dealers are fighting for areas to sell their product and eliminate competition (again to keep the price of the drugs high) would vanish," he says.

“The sophisticated drug dealers who live in million-dollar homes would be out of business. The Canadian government would not be contributing to the violence committed by Mexican drug cartels or for funding extremist elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Handlarski notes that many say that drugs should be illegal for moral reasons. Others stipulate that if such drugs were legalized, there would be more addicts. 

“I have already explained in a previous article why I do not accept that legalization will lead to more drug users (and therefore addicts),” he says. 

“Even if I am wrong, I would still be in favour of legalization because it is the responsibility of the drug addicts if they become addicted. They are not innocent.

"On the other hand, the violent harm that has been done to innocent people because of the illegal drug trade is much more morally abhorrent than more drug addicts in a society where drugs for personal use is legal.”

When it comes to the moral argument against drugs, Handlarski agrees there is a moral issue but it has more to do with the fact that drug addicts are reduced to acts of theft and sexual degradation to get a product that he says should cost about the same as sugar.

“It is also a moral issue that illegal drug traffickers can lace an already harmful substance with an even more harmful substance like fentanyl or even rat poison,” he says.

“Often when there are overdoses, the reason is because the drug is mixed with something unknown to the drug user. No moralizing about the effects of legalization should be permitted without considering the effects on the users under prohibition, their sometimes preventable deaths and the crime they commit or how they have to degrade themselves to obtain the drugs.”

Handlarski points to the famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. 

“The government strategy of prohibition and stiff penalties for drug traffickers is not working because those are exactly the elements that increase the risk and make the price of drugs so high that thereby creates the very powerful incentive to traffic it illegally and commit acts of violence in furtherance of those economic incentives,” Handlarski says.

“In order to end drug-related violence in our country and not contribute to it abroad, it is time to reduce the incentive to do it.

“You want to fight a war against sophisticated drug traffickers? So be it. Legalize drugs for personal use, sell the drugs at a low cost and they will disappear without a shot being fired.”

To Read More Ryan Handlarski Posts Click Here
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