LEGALIZING COCAINE….Mark Kleiman writes today that legalizing cocaine is a bad idea because it would put a lot of coke dealers out of work and would devastate the earnings of crack whores.

OK, OK, perhaps I’m oversimplifying a bit here, but he really does say that. Good thing he’s not running for president, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you just love to be in charge of creating the TV ads for his opponent?

On a more serious note, Mark is basically making the argument that legalizing cocaine would cause cocaine use (and cocaine addiction) to rise, which is clearly a bad thing. He has certainly convinced me that this must be true, but it still leaves the basic cost-benefit analysis open since we don’t know how much cocaine use would rise.

My problem is that the devastation and cost of our current drug regime is so bad that it’s hard to imagine that legalization would, on balance, make things worse. That might just be a failure of imagination on my part ? after all, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse ? but I still need some persuasion on this point. In fact, Mark himself, although he favors other policy measures, admits that:

Legalization at a low price would probably succeed in reducing overall crime, and might well be a substantial boon to poor minority neighborhoods now wracked by cocaine dealing, though at what would very probably be a very high cost in increased cocaine abuse. It is even possible, though I doubt it, that low-price legalization would represent a net improvement over today’s version of prohibition.

Has anyone done a serious (but not too horrifically lengthy) policy analysis that compares the cost of increased cocaine use with the benefits of legalization? And is there anything close to a consensus view on this within the drug policy community? Back to you, Mark….

UPDATE: John Isbell reminds me to remind my readers that Mark is a public policy professor at UCLA and specializes in drug policy. I couldn’t resist having a little fun with him, but his opinions on this subject should be taken seriously.