« What Explains Our Drug Policy Inertia? (Logical, Historical, Political | Main | Anglo-American Cooperation (Political Propaganda) »

January 24, 2008

Drug Market Econometrics (Personal, Historical)

When I was an undergraduate at Cornell between 1949 and 1953, it had never occurred to me to take a course in Economics. I was a pre-med and thus already burdened with an obligatory menu that included 2 years of German, a Zoology major and as little Chemistry and Physics as possible. For the balance I’d chosen to minor in Philosophy and fill in the odd leftover time with basic Sociology, and American History including a wonderful course in the American Presidency taught by Clinton Rossiter, easily one of the two or three most  inspiring teachers I ever encountered.

It was probably that lack of formal education in Economics that kept me from pursuing the economic implications of our drug policy, despite lip service paid to “supply reduction” and “demand reduction” by both policy advocates and the popular press. For one thing, I didn’t feel qualified, for another, I already knew drug warriors  to be colossal liars who were willing to say anything.

More recently, the six year research project that grew out of my screening of  California pot applicants eventually led me to realize I’d become privy to several key facts that were probably unknown to academic economists. A reasonably detailed (but but no means exhaustive)  googling of econometrics of illegal drug markets confirmed that most academic authors are, for whatever reason, still thinking within the same federal box as everyone else, namely that the nation’s drug problem really is the public’s proclivity to use  “drugs of abuse” and not the federal government’s political decision to create, sustain, and prosecute profitable criminal enterprises. A representative specimen of such thinking can be found here.

Along the same lines, a common question often raised about pot (but almost never with respect to “harder” drugs like heroin and cocaine) is “why not just regulate and tax the stuff?” To my delight, I found that one of my earlier blog entries had included passing reference to a (rare) detailed and responsible attempt to grapple with the same subject. The discovery also moved me to actually read the authors’ lengthy analysis, for which I was grateful; because, as usual, I learned from it.

What I learned is that even an unbiased attempt to deal with the issues of pot prohibition is severely handicapped by the imposed ignorance of our doctrinaire war on drugs. For example, one of the most obvious findings to be derived from my study is that the popularity of pot has been critically driven by its unique appeal to adolescents and that long term use has almost inevitably been precreded by juvenile initiation, a phenomenon that simply wasn’t possible until large numbers of secondary school students were able to try it from about 1967 on. Another critical understanding is the relationship the study reveals between repetitive pot use, the initiation of what I now regard as the three “entry level” drugs, and the fact that (illegal) cannabis hadn't become the third member of that group until the Sixties.

The bottom line is that any meaningful econometric analysis of illegal drug markets will require at least as much transparency as now exists in markets for tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals. That we are still a long way from such transparency can be understood from the way drug policy issues are being scrupulously avoided; not only by our presidential hopefuls, but by the media pundits now interrogating them ad nauseam; mostly about trivia, as the radically advanced selection process drones on.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 24, 2008 09:39 PM