Why Are Illegal Drugs Stronger Than They Used to Be?

Is it possible the war on drugs is to blame for increased potency in marijuana and for how crack ravaged inner cities in the 1980s? Prof. Adam Martin explains how the drug war has altered incentives for both drug buyers and sellers, leading them to favor higher potency drugs. This is what economists call the potency effect. As penalties for purchasing marijuana go up, for example, the cost difference between high- and low-potency marijuana decreases and people may think that if they’re risking a fine or jail time anyway they may as well buy the stronger drugs. Similarly, cartels and dealers have shifted their focus to high-value, high-potency drugs like cocaine as a result of the steeper fines and penalties for drug trafficking. The potency effect is just one of many economic forces that make markets so complex. Public policies that alter the incentives people face—as the war on drugs does—can lead to unintended and even dangerous consequences.

16 Comments

  1. kristofbi

    Incredible to see that, in fact, drugs have become more potent and powerful due to prohibition. 

  2. Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure drugs would be potent as hell if they were legalized, the only difference is that there would be more variety (at least the variety would be easier to identify..), more knowledge in the mainstream about drugs, more support from professionals, better tools for drug use and identification and measuring of potency, more professional expertise, more tools for identifying drug users so we can prevent them from having jobs running nuclear power plants, and less violence surrounding the trade all to keep it safe and fun for people to enjoy their drugs!

  3. HRotondo

    This is the vest I’ve seen in a while. The reasoning is so effective and simple, that it’s difficult for me to find a legitimate reason for the war on drugs. 

  4. Anonymous

    It’s NEVER been about ‘drugs’ or public health but rather CONTROL — MORE POWER for government at the expense of our constitutional liberty.

  5. maurinaros

    Well this mat be true, there are better forms of concentration than there used to be. Things like wax and tincture are more commonly used and more potently extracted than they used to be.

  6. Mike Ruff

    Also, because most penalties are based on quantity by weight, there is an additional incentive to make higher potency drugs to reduce the weight held at any particular moment.

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