Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Transform publishes comparative cost-effectiveness study of prohibition / regulation

Transform's latest report is published today:

A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of the Prohibition and Regulation of Drugs

media coverage listing below


‘The benefits of… [legalisation/regulation] – such as taxation, quality control and a reduction in the pressures on the criminal justice system – are far outweighed by the costs and for this reason, it is one that this Government will not pursue either domestically or internationally.”

Home Office Briefing, 2008

  • Despite the billions spent each year on proactive and reactive drug law enforcement, the punitive prohibitionist approach has consistently delivered the opposite of its stated goals. The Government’s own data clearly demonstrates drug supply and availability increasing; use of drugs that cause the most harm increasing; health harms increasing; massive levels of crime created at all scales leading to a crisis in the criminal justice system; and illicit drug profits enriching criminals, fuelling conflict and destabilising producer and transit countries from Mexico to Afghanistan. This is an expensive policy that, in the words of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has also created a raft of negative ‘unintended consequences’.

  • The UK Government specifically claims the benefits of any move away from prohibition towards legal regulation of drug markets would be outweighed by the costs. No such cost-benefit analysis, or even a proper Impact Assessment of existing enforcement policy and legislation has ever been carried out here or anywhere else in the world. Yet there are clear Government guidelines that an Impact Assessment should be triggered by amongst other things, a policy going out to public consultation or when ‘unintended consequences’ are identified, both of which have happened with drug policy in recent years.

  • Alternative approaches - involving established regulatory models of controlling drug production, supply and use - have not been considered or costed. The limited cost effectiveness analysis of current policy that has been undertaken has frequently been suppressed. In terms of scrutinizing major public policy and spending initiatives, current drug policy is unique in this regard.

  • The generalisations being used to defend continuation of an expensive and systematically failing policy of drugs prohibition, and close down a mature and rational exploration of alternative approaches, are demonstrably based on un-evidenced assumptions.

  • This paper is an attempt to begin to redress these failings by comparing the costs and benefits of the current policy of drug prohibition, with those of a proposed model for the legal regulation of drugs in the UK. We also identify areas of further research, and steps to ensure future drugs policy is genuinely based on evidence of what works.

  • This initial analysis demonstrates that a move to legally regulated drug supply would deliver substantial benefits to the Treasury and wider community, even in the highly unlikely event of a substantial increase in use.

Media Coverage:

BBC radio 4: The Today Programme:

New Statesman: Limping Along on the Left

Politics.co.uk: the cost of drug wars: £16 billion

Hungarian news portal:no translation available

not all the print coverage was positive / straight reportage:

South Wales Evening Post:
legalising drugs would lead to chaos

Daily Mail: Peter Hitchens: Eliot Ness couldn't stop booze, but he would win today's war on drugs ("Another parcel of garbage from the pro-drug lobby")

Other broadcast interviews included :

  • BBC Five Live drive-time
  • BBC radio Wales
  • BBC radio London
  • Talk Sport radio
  • LBC radio
  • Liverpool city talk radio
  • SFM (South Africa national radio station)
  • South Africa Broadcasting corporation TV news
  • BBC news channel
  • Channel five - The Wright Stuff (discussion of report not featuring Transform staff)


Anonymous said...

This is absolutely superb work, it is getting a good deal of media coverage, as it deserves to, and is a highly useful source for debate....

Andrew said...

This seems to be very interesting research. I hope people in positions to make a difference to public policy on this are paying attention.

Anonymous said...

"The legalisation of drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by organised career criminals; such criminals would simply seek new sources of illicit revenue through crime. Neither would a regulated market eliminate illicit supplies, as alcohol and tobacco smuggling demonstrate."


I think some people don't really grasp the size of the illegal drugs trade...

Anonymous said...

An excellent piece of work - well done Transform.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant report. A few suggestions:
1. Supply drugs ONLY through monitoring and self financing NHS clinics. No tax raising involved. Make sure illegal market is undercut of course. Draconian punishments for all illegal traders after this.
2. repeatedly make the point that if drug barons can't make money any longer, pushing will stop and the young will be freed from temptation. So abuse will fall.
3. Buy up and burn all heroin and coke from the farmers at a price above the market one. This puts legal money into the system and starts a normal economy rolling. Farmers can then be bribed into growing normal crops. Drug traders simply become redundant, as did the illicit stills until high tax resurrected few.

Will21st said...

Wow,great work!
Now all that needs to happen is for New Labour to fully endorse this excellent piece of research!
Steve,has Gordo given you a ring yet? ;o)

John Moore said...

Brilliant, well done.

Anonymous said...

Great work, nice to see positive views in the media - well done transform! :)

chrisbx515 said...

Great work and interesting that the debate is filled with comment in the various reports like the one in the Telegraph that printed ‘Home Office spokesman said: "Drugs are controlled because they are harmful.” Giving the misleading statement that the illicit market for drugs are controlled by prohibition, these are the moments that this kind of thinking can be challenged and defeated in the public arena and the debate won. Again I would like to say well done to Transform for this piece of work.

thepoisongarden said...

It makes me want to scream when the Home Office says 'The law provides an important deterrent to drug use' with no evidence to support it.

I particularly liked the South Wales story linked to above where the member of the Swansea Drugs Project says, in effect, 'we need an honest debate to show that prohibition is the right policy'.

Let's hope that there are enough people who know what an 'honest debate' is for one to occur.

Anonymous said...


Channel 4 News Discussion in link above.

Duncan Stott said...

Also some favourable coverage on The Wright Stuff this morning.

the prof speaks sh*te said...

This is generally a decent piece of work and, as the excellent media coverage shows, a fantastic tool for your campaign.

Some of the substantive content of the report, though, is utter nonsense. The stuff on crime, for example, is totally exaggerated - you footnote a paper by Alex Stevens, so you must be aware of this. For anyone who knows anything about drug-related crime, this will seriously undermine the credibility of the work. Surely this sort of distortion puts you on shaky moral ground? Isn't this the sort of thing you berate the government for doing? It also leaves you vulnerable because a careful critique of this part of the report might end up torpedoing the whole thing.

But having said that, I'm pleased to see that it's made a good media splash.

Steve Rolles said...

re the crime stats - what we have used is the Home Office analysis and figures - that have been widely touted, indeed used (somewhat perversely i think) to justify the policies continuation. We also used the strategy unit figures, although there is quite a lot of overlap. This is the best data available and seemed reasonable to use whilst acknowledging the critique of some of it as a footnote.

We've also invited feedback so the analysis can be refined, and it is clearly labeled as a document to provoke discussion and further work. Similarly we have been clear to acknowledge the weakness of available data and analysis generally and call for a program of research in response to that.

If there are some points where the costs are initially overstated, on the flip side I hope we have also pointed out the massive prohibition costs that have been excluded.

Unlike drug war dogma this is a work in progress - able to evolve in response to critique and dialogue. Thats the point.

thepoisongarden said...

I've just listened to Steve's discussion on 'More or Less'. I think you did well not to grab the other chap by the throat and shake him.

Taking China as a model for the extent of possible drug use is deeply flawed on two grounds. First, as the 'Prof' himself said, the British were actively trying to increase sales of opium to China. The regulated market proposed by Transform actually takes a situation where people are actively trying to sell drugs and replaces it with one where those who are unable to do without drugs can obtain them but active promotion (by drug dealers) is controlled.

And the second flaw, is to continue with the prejudice that China was full of 'opium fiends' living in a criminal underworld. In 19th century China, provision of any sort of medical services was extremely limited. There could be 100,000 people for one doctor. In that sort of society, opium was almost the only pain-reliever available and, in the absence of any effective treatments for all manner of conditions, pain relief was about all there was even though it could lead to an addiction continuing long after the pain had gone.

You would only see those sorts of use levels if a) the government tried to use heroin profits to reduce the deficit and b) you shut down the NHS.

Interesting that the Home Office wouldn't appear on a programme known for cutting through the nonsense to demonstrate the underlying facts.

Well done.

Steve Rolles said...

I agree that the china opium argument is a particularly strange one - although one that comes up quite often oddly enough (in the comments on this blog and from Costa at the UNODC on occasion). Opium use in pre-revolution peasant china has little relevance to injectable heroin and crack use in 21st century urban Britain IMHO. I don't buy the tobacco/alcohol comparison either (and say why in the report and elsewhere) but it makes more sense.

thepoisongarden said...

Surely, the opium situation in China is more akin to the present situation here; aggressive selling which is able to overcome all attempts by the relevant authority to reduce consumption.

It seems that many prohibitionists misunderstand, possibly deliberately, that this is not about creating an open market where supply agents will be able to encourage consumption. Where they do understand that the aim is for regulated supply they throw up the situation with alcohol and tobacco.

In the paper, you talk about the situation regarding consumption of alcohol during prohibition in the USA but, I wonder, if there are things to learn from the situation post-prohibition.

I am not a statistician and I can not claim to be able to eliminate the pitfalls of comparing two sets of data collected in different ways. On the face of it, however, it appears that alcohol prevalence in the USA is still below UK rates in all age groups.

Is it possible that this is because the USA created a regulated structure at the end of prohibition which has continued to have an effect in depressing demand?

Could it be that looking at UK efforts to control alcohol and tobacco, which involve taking a predominantly open market and bringing it under regulation, is the wrong model? The USA situation where a prohibited substance was made available under regulation may be the more relevant.

Just one other thought. The prohibitionists talk about an uncontrolled growth in drug use if prohibition is ended. In fact, the UK government has already accepted the principle that there is a finite demand for psychoactive substances.

On 2nd March, 2006, it was announced in the House of Lords that the UK government would accept the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs not to make Catha edulis, khat, a controlled substance. The basis of that decision was that khat was only of interest to a finite subset of the UK population and allowing a completely open, unregulated market would not result in an expansion of its use.

It is for prohibitionists to demonstrate that this principle can not be applied to other substances.